Kiki Courtelis and her mother moved from Florida to Kentucky eight years ago for a simple reason. After years of involvement with Arabian show horses — heading up the breeding stock for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum no less — they wanted in on the Thoroughbred industry. And they wanted to be in the heartland to do it.
Around this time last year, Courtelis came to the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion with equally determined intentions. She wanted a filly to put her family's Town and Country Farms on the map.
What she got was a distaffer who has now put her operation on a list with some of the most influential owners the sport has seen.
The first day of the first Breeders' Cup hosted by Keeneland yielded the kind of result that drives people into the Thoroughbred business to begin with. Multiple Grade I winner Stopchargingmaria gave Town and Country its first Breeders' Cup victory in its initial try when she held off Stellar Wind and then survived a claim of foul to win the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff by a neck before a crowd of 44,947.
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"It's just a dream come true to be a breeder and win the Breeders' Cup with such an amazing filly with so much heart," Courtelis said. "We wanted to get a filly who would put us on the map in Thoroughbred racing and we took a chance and thought it would be her."
Plans never pan out as simply as they are crafted. And part of the reason Stopchargingmaria landed in the hands of Courtelis and racing manager Shannon Potter was due to one goal going awry.
A multiple Grade I winner at age 3, Stopchargingmaria was offered up for sale by owner Mike Repole last November but ended up a buyback at $3.15 million. It was then that trainer Todd Pletcher, who has conditioned the daughter of Tale of the Cat throughout her now 16-race career, suggested the Town and Country crew try to buy the dark bay filly privately.
"Todd was with us when we bid on another horse ... and he said, 'Hey, why don't we take a run at Stopchargingmaria,' " Potter said. "He said, 'I think she'll continue to just flourish.' So we struck a deal with Mike, and that's kind of how it came about.
"We were looking for a horse, not necessarily looking for Maria. But boy ... we were lucky we didn't get the one we bid on so we could get Maria."
Stopchargingmaria is a filly that runs best fresh. Hence, Pletcher has only given her four prior starts this season and opted to not squeeze one more Breeders' Cup prep into her after she finished fourth in the Grade I Personal Ensign on Aug. 29.
With Javier Castellano in the irons, Stopchargingmaria was on point after breaking from post No. 4 as she rated in an outside path in fifth alongside race favorite Wedding Toast while My Sweet Addiction carved out an opening half mile in 47.28.
She came with her sustained run four wide around the final turn and hooked up with Stellar Wind to her outside. Though jockey Victor Espinoza lodged a claim of foul against Stopchargingmaria, saying Castellano moved out on him, the stewards let the result stand.
"I felt pretty comfortable watching the head-on that we were going to be OK," said Pletcher, who earned his ninth career Breeders' Cup win and also saddled third-place finisher Curalina. "She runs her best races sometimes when she's fresh. I think that was the key, and how she trained here. I thought her work last Saturday was exceptional."
Final time for the 11⁄8-mile distance was 1:48.98.
A beaming Courtelis said as long as Stopchargingmaria is healthy, the door is open for her to return to racing next year and try to add to her stockpile of nine wins and $2,924,000 in earnings.
"She gives 150 percent every single time," Courtelis said. "I just think she goes after everything knowing she's going to win."