By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports
Long before Cilla ran her first race, trainer Brett Brinkman knew he had a special horse.
“She had the talent, she had the mentality, she had the confirmation,” Brinkman remembered. “She had a lot of the things that you need to become a nice horse. They just all worked together. The timing worked, and she turned out to be who she is.”
“She” is the 2021 Louisiana-bred Horse of the Year, named by the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association (LTBA). As a three-year-old, Cilla won 7 of her 17 starts, and earned $504,000. This year, the filly has won twice in five starts, earning $133,000.
“Her consistency,” Brinkman said, when asked what he likes about Cilla’s racing style. “She brings her good game most every time. Something has to be a fluke thrown against her. We’ve spotted her in some pretty ambitious places, and she’s run what I felt was her ‘A’ game. And she’s been beaten in those spots. But when she throws her ‘A’ game, it takes another horse’s ‘A’ or ‘A-plus’ game to outrun her.”
There was hope around Louisiana Downs that Cilla would make her next start Saturday, on Louisiana Cup Day. However, Brinkman said that is doubtful. Instead, he is considering running Cilla in The Incredible Revenge Stakes, a $100,000, five-and-a-half-furlong turf race at Monmouth Park.
Cilla certainly has the pedigree for a successful racing career. Her father is California Chrome, a two-time Horse of the Year, and winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Cilla’s mother, Sittin at the Bar, was sired by Into Mischief, the three-time reigning champion General Sire. Thanks in part to California Chrome’s success on grass — she won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby — Brinkman wants to see what Cilla can do on the turf. She’s only gone off the dirt once, her second career start, and had her worst finish (ninth) ever.
“We felt like her results were probably due to our timing more than who she was at the time,” Brinkman said. “She just really wasn’t as confident a horse back then as she is today, so we’re going to try her back. It (turf racing) just opens up a new avenue. We go to the Fair Grounds in the winter. There are four grass stakes for older fillies and mares, sprinting. We have a huge option if it rains and (the race) goes on the dirt, because she is excellent in the mud.”
Cilla has raced at 11 tracks, all but three outside of Louisiana. Brinkman agrees Cilla carries the banner for Louisiana breds.
“For sure. For sure,” he said. “More than once I’ve heard her referred to as the Louisiana-bred in the race. That’s the one great thing that’s happened. The LTBA has done a great job of name-branding their product. When these horses establish their levels, and create themselves at the national level, they have that brand. They carry that brand forward as a Louisiana bred, and people notice.”
While Brinkman is partial to Cilla, he gives credit to other Louisiana breds who show their talents outside the state.
“When you look at it across the board, these horses go everywhere and compete against everybody, at some point. You find various horses that will show up in all kinds of sections of the United States — California, New York, everywhere. With the levels of racing there are in different spots, I feel like the Louisiana breds have made enormous bounds forward in their stature, when you evaluate them on a competition level around the nation.”
And that’s in spite of the fact Louisiana doesn’t produce as many thoroughbreds as some other states.
“The numbers work against us. We just don’t have the numbers (that) a place like Kentucky, New York, and Florida have. But when you talk about percentages, and our ability to compete and earn money and be productive, we sit pretty good. We’re raising a good horse in Louisiana and we’re breeding a much better horse in Louisiana.”
While Brinkman is Cilla’s trainer, he was also her breeder, along with owner P. Dale Ladner. That made Cilla’s honor from the LTBA even more meaningful.
“I was raised in a family that this is what we’ve done all our lives — breed and raise horses,” said Brinkman. “I call myself a trainer basically by default. We broke and trained horses and did that all my life growing up, but most of the time we stayed closer to the farm and didn’t go to the racetrack. But I ventured off and went on to the race track and did all that, but I also ventured back into the breeding aspect. I put a lot of stock into breeding my horses and raising my horses. Without that part of it, they don’t have a good career.”
So far, it looks like Brinkman got the breeding — and the training — right.
Louisiana Downs races Saturday through Tuesday. Post time is 3:05, except for this Saturday, Louisiana Cup Day, when post time is 1:45.
Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com
Photo Courtesy of Coady Photography