Owners of Baghdaria Get Their Shot at Churchill

Owners Clinton and Susan Atkins had hoped to watch their 3-year-old filly Baghdaria race under Churchill Downs' famed twin spires on the first Friday in May. The filly didn't compete in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), but they have a second chance to compete at Churchill with a berth in the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

Baghdaria will make only her second grade I start in the $2-million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 4.

"To be in the Breeders' Cup, it's just beyond any expectation," said Susan Atkins who, together with her husband, established Casa Farms in Lexington. "It's something that we really didn't discuss, but we knew there was a possibility. We just waited to see if it could happen."

Trainer Tom Amoss first noticed the Royal Academy filly when she narrowly won the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III) at Louisiana Downs. She would make two more starts for trainer Bret Calhoun before being purchased by the couple and moved to Amoss' barn.

"When we initially bought her, we were hopeful to make the Kentucky Oaks with her. It didn't work out, so we went to the Black Eyed Susan," Amoss said. "We had a bad trip that day and finished third, so we knew we had something good at that point, and certainly she had proven that she was something good before we ever purchased her."

After the Black Eyed Susan, Baghdaria was pointed to the $200,000 Iowa Oaks (gr. III), where she went off as the favorite and collected her second graded stakes victory by half a length. Amoss then set his sights on a grade I contest--the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park. When Baghdaria finished eighth, 35 lengths back, the connections had to regroup.

"That certainly was a time where regroup would be the understatement of all understatements," Amoss said. "We thought we had a horse that was prepared to race in grade I competition, and through a series of unfortunate incidents, we were anything but ready to do that. It was a trip where everything went wrong. It was just too hot with a sloppy track."

While Atkins and her husband were disappointed in Baghdaria's Belmont performance, they were more concerned about the welfare of the filly. "It was very, very disappointing in New York," Atkins said. "Thankfully she got out of there healthy."

The trainer adjusted the game plan and shipped the Kentucky-bred 3-year-old filly by Royal Academy to Chicago for the Arlington Park Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. III). Once again, the result was disappointing. Instead of making her seventh seasonal start, Baghdaria was scratched from the contest after tying up.

"In Chicago again it was unfortunate. Sometimes you don't get to get them back," Atkins said. "We've always said, 'Don't push them.' That's what's great about Tom. He didn't want to hurt the horse."

It was back to the drawing board for Amoss. He settled on the $400,000 Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. III) at Hoosier Park. Baghdaria won the 1 1/16-miles contest by four lengths and set the plate for the Distaff. She has drawn post eight and will be ridden by Rafael Bajarano, who has guided her to two victories and the third-place effort at Pimlico. She is 30-1 in the morning line.

"I think she's a very, very good 3-year-old filly, and I think she's earned her right to be in this race," said Amoss, who has sent out four starters previously in Breeders' Cup competition, including third-place finishes in the Distaff by Heritage Of Gold in 1999 and 2000. "It's really hard when going against horses of this caliber to try to judge your horse against them."

Atkins said she and her husband became involved in racing four years ago with aspirations of making it to the Kentucky Derby, like many who enter the business. Their two-year partnership with Amoss has yet to yield a bid in the Run for the Roses, but the Atkins are "beyond elated" to have a starter at Churchill Downs in the Breeders' Cup, Susan Atkins said.