Indiana champion Churita continues to ‘charm’ her connectionsMarch 15, 2018,
by Kim French, USTA Internet News Editor
Columbus, OH — Prior to the emergence of Hannelore Hanover there was another young lady that captured the hearts of Hoosier Park harness fans with her dominating performances and regal demeanor. Five years into her career, people still crowd the fences to catch a glimpse of her and will her to victory. She is none other than dual Indiana Sire Stakes champion Churita, who possesses a personality that tries her trainer’s patience, but which has propelled her to excel in elite competition.
“It has been a journey since we brought her home as a yearling,” said Matt Rheinheimer, her conditioner. “At the end of the day you realize there is no sense fighting with her because she will always get her way. If you walk away from her and she turns her back to you, in her mind she has won. I have had other people take care of her and they wonder how I deal with her, but I don’t know what it would be like without her; I don’t even want to think about it.”
A daughter of Airzoom Lindy-Stonebridge Volare, Churita was purchased for $3,700 at the 2013 Hoosier Classic Yearling Sale by Jack Porter. She was not Porter’s or Rheinheimer’s first selection and actually was not even on their list, but for some unknown reason the stars aligned on that particular day and the filly that initially did not warrant special attention became Porter’s property.
Churita was not especially impressive training down and Rheinheimer was not sure she was even going to make it to the races as a freshman. In fact, she was only purchased to compete at the fairs, where Rheinheimer and Porter have long concentrated their efforts, but it was discovered she was not eligible to that circuit shortly after she entered Rheinheimer’s barn. Therefore, Churita was pointed to the Indiana Sire Stakes program, where she not only demonstrated her trainer might not have appropriately gauged her ability, but reeled off seven consecutive victories en route to concluding her campaign with a triumph in the $220,000 Sire Stakes final.
The trotting filly picked up right where she left off as a sophomore and added nine straight wins before being defeated by Hannelore Hanover in sire stakes action on Sept. 19, 2015. She ended her 3-year-old season with two more seconds to Hannelore Hanover, including the $220,000 sire stakes final, prior to finishing behind Bright Baby Blues in a $46,750 division of the Circle City and the $140,000 Crossroads of America.
At that juncture, Churita had earned just over $500,000 and her resume stood at a stellar 24-17-5-2.
“Can you imagine how the guy feels that was bidding against me on her?” Porter said. “If he would only have went to $4,000 she would have been his because I was not going any higher.”
Like her rival Hannelore Hanover, Churita has continued to trot consistently as both a 4-and 5-year-old. Participating primarily in Opens and Invitationals at Hoosier Park, Miami Valley Raceway and Dayton Raceway, the now 6-year-old has defeated males, came home first in front of Hannelore Hanover in last year’s $70,000 Indiana Sire Stakes final for older mares and has begun this season with two wins in the Open Handicap at Miami Valley Raceway. Churita is currently on a four-race winning streak and has banked $794,710.
“People have asked me why we just race her locally but the truth is she is not a very good shipper,” Porter said. “It took Matt some time to even get her to be able to go to Miami Valley and Dayton. The only way you can keep her from tearing the trailer down is allowing her to hang her head out the window as far as she can. I followed him one time to Miami Valley when her head wasn’t out and the trailer was shaking from her.”
Rheinheimer concurs the only way to keep Churita happy while hauling her is to allow her to witness what is transpiring around her.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it really,” he said. “And it’s very funny to watch. If a big truck comes along, like a semi, she will just pull her head right in and wait for it to pass. One time we were stopped in traffic and there was a bunch of kids outside. They were just having a ball watching her.”
Although she is generous with her time to her fans, Churita is not nearly as kind to her trainer and owner.
“She used to never like being turned out and stood right at the gate,” Rheinheimer said. “Now I can’t catch her when she’s out there and she just comes in for her food. She also will not wear wraps and will chew them right off. I can’t really poultice her either because she will lick that right off and every time I go to put the first trotting boot on her she’ll kick. She will only do it once to get it out of her system and then she’s fine. But I think she does like me even though she would never admit it. My wife even says she acts differently when she feeds her than when I do.”
Porter does not deal with his prized mare on a daily basis, but Churita will not even allow the man who pays for her feed to snap a photo of her.
“She’ll put her head up and prick her ears for anyone else,” he said. “The girls at Hoosier Park have got some wonderful pictures of her in the paddock and many other people that stop by to see her do as well. She won’t for me though. The minute she sees me and sees I have a phone in my hand or a camera, she turns right around, then goes to the corner of her stall. I’m starting to think maybe when she sees me she knows it’s time to race, but I do know I can’t get a picture of her unless it’s in the winner’s circle.”
Despite the difficulties she presents, Rheinheimer and Porter could not be any prouder of Churita and how she has blossomed.
“We gave her some time off because of the EHV-1 situation at Miami Valley but we should be putting her in on Sunday,” Rheinheimer said. “She has done more than we ever imagined or dreamed of but I would have to say my proudest moment was when she won the Arnie Almahurst at the Darke County Fair. Jackie and I have only ever had fair horses; to have a horse like her good enough to win that race and for it to be her, was very special to us; it was very emotional.
“I really don’t know what I will do without her. Jackie bought a farm and keeps asking me when she can be a broodmare. I just keep telling him not yet because I’m just not through with her.”
While Porter’s property in Tennessee ultimately awaits Churita for her second career and eventual retirement, the mare still has plenty of races to contest in 2018.
“Matt keeps telling me she is too racy to be a broodmare,” Porter said. “I just know my farm is ready for her and I can have her with me for the rest of her days. We are still looking forward to racing her this year and staked her to the Grand Circuit events at Miami Valley, Dayton and Scioto. Whatever she does now is just extra and it always was. To go from racing at the fairs to having a Grand Circuit horse is something I never thought would happen to me. She is my horse of a lifetime and my baby girl.”