It's been 30 years since Peter Brant visited the Breeders' Cup winner's circle, capturing the 1988 Sprint with D. Wayne Lukas-trained Gulch at Churchill Downs. He left the business amid legal and marital problems in the early 1990s but has come back with a vengeance, spending millions of dollars on well-bred horses in the last two years with an emphasis on fillies and mares that will become part of a high-end broodmare band.
On Saturday at Churchill Downs, one of those fillies, Sistercharlie – an Irish-bred who gave Brant his first G1 victory on his return to racing earlier this year when taking the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland – brought him back to the Breeders' Cup winner's circle with a hard-fought neck victory in the $2-million, G1 Filly & Mare Turf under jockey John Velazquez.
Sistercharlie was one of five starters in the race for trainer Chad Brown, who was winning the Filly & Mare Turf for the fourth time since 2012. He previously won with Zagora in 2012, Dayatthespa in 2014 and Stephanie's Kitten in 2015.
Sistercharlie, a 4-year-old by Myboycharlie out of Starlet's Sister, by Galileo, covered 1 3/8 miles in 2:20.96 on a turf course rated good after rain earlier in the week. Finishing second was the 5-2 favorite Wild Illusion, the Charlie Appleby runner who was three-quarters of a length in front of Brown-trained pace-setter A Raving Beauty in third. Aidan O'Brien-trained Magic Wand was another 1 3/4 lengths back in fourth. They were followed under the wire by Athena, Eziyra, Fourstar Crook, Mom's On Strike, Princess Yaiza, Santa Monica, Furiously Kissed, Paved, Thais and Smart Choice.
Sistercharlie paid $8.60 to win as the second choice in the wagering.
The start to the Filly & Mare Turf was delayed as Wild Illusion resisted being loaded into the number three stall of the starting gate, located near the far turn on the Churchill Downs backstretch. Once in, the Godolphin runner broke a step slowly, then raced in good position in fourth under William Buick as Brown's two-time G1 winner, German-bred A Raving Beauty, crawled through fractions of :26.20, :51.81, and 1:18.56 through six furlongs. Magic Wand was in closest pursuit throughout under Ryan Moore while Sistercharlie raced in eighth position, one off the rail. Positions were largely unchanged as the field reached the far turn, the mile in 1:43.98, but Velazquez began his move aboard Sistercharlie.
A Raving Beauty and jockey Javier Castellano were still in front at the top of the stretch, the mile and a quarter timed in 2:08.57, but both Wild Illusion and Sistercharlie were bearing down on the leader. Wild Illusion struck the front inside the furlong pole, but Sistercharlie had her measured, gaining the victory in the final sixteenth of a mile.
“She's all class, this horse, and she knows where the wire is,” said Brown. “She showed her heart there in the last stages.”
Appleby was pleased by the effort of Wild Illusion, one of five 3-year-olds in the race. “She's run a fantastic race and has lost nothing in defeat,” he said of the three-time G1 winner in France and England. “Coming into the race we felt that Chad's filly (Sistercharlie) was the one we all had to beat, so full credit to him and his team on their win. Our horse is a consistent Grade 1 performer, but I feel one mile and two furlongs is really her ideal trip. All three of mine have performed this weekend, so I'm delighted with how everything has gone.”
Brant acquired Sistercharlie in a private transaction in 2017, and the filly then ran second, beaten a neck by another Brown runner, New Money Honey, in the G1 Belmont Oaks Invitational. Sistercharlie then got sick with pneumonia and was off for the remainder of the year.
She came back strong in 2018, winning the Jenny Wiley in April, finishing second in the G2 New York in June, then won back-to-back G1 races in July and August, taking the Diana in Saratoga and Beverly D at Arlington Park.
If Sistercharlie wins an Eclipse Award as outstanding turf mare, it would be Brant's third Eclipse Award winning filly or mare, having won with Waya (owned in partnership with George Strawbridge) in 1979 and Just A Game II in 1980. He owned the latter in partnership with his cousin, Joseph Allen, who Brant credits for bringing him back into racing. Gulch, who raced in the Breeders' Cup in three consecutive years, won as champion sprinter in 1988. He also was part owner of 1984 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Swale and was responsible for bringing Mr. Prospector from Florida to stand at Claiborne in Kentucky, where he became one of the breed's most influential sires.
“So I was also very fortunate to still be involved with Claiborne and Seth Hancock and he certainly has always guided me along from the very beginning,” Brant said of his earlier days in racing. “And a lot of respect for him and others — I had great trainers like Wayne Lukas and LeRoy Jolley and then of course, Frank and David Whiteley. So I've been very fortunate and I'm just happy to be back. And I guess comparing this win, I mean this is the greatest win I've ever had. This mare has had so much bad luck and she's overcome it and she is out there today and she hasn't always been able to make the schedule because of weather or because of a spider bite or because of a fever that she had. She had a bout of pneumonia earlier. And she's just overcome everything and she's very special, very special to me and very special to my family and I'm sure very special to Chad.”
Brant, 71, was a world-class polo player for many years and concentrated on that sport during his absence from racing. Sistercharlie is one of about 30 horses he has in training in Europe and the United States, with all of his U.S. runners stabled with Chad Brown.
Will Sistercharlie race in 2019 at age 5?
“Well, we would like to see the way she comes back from this race, but we plan on running her next year if she's okay,” said Brant. “That's what Chad wants to do and I think that's what I want to do, so I think that's what we're going to do.”
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