Chiller: The Claimer Was All Heart

Chiller: The Claimer Was All Heart

This low-level claimer was as honest as the day is long.

Claiming horse Chiller

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By Richard Chamberlain

Jockey Curt Perner in his day was a top-flight jockey on both American Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. To pick one example, Perner took the 1960 All American Futurity (now G1) aboard champion Tonto Bars Hank.

So one might think that “Hank” would be his favorite.

One would be wrong.

“No, not Tonto Bars Hank,” said Perner. “Hank was a good horse.  But the way he was bred and all, he was supposed to be good. My favorite horse of all the horses I rode – and I rode a lot of them – was Chiller.”

Uh, Chiller?

“Chiller,” he repeated. “Every time I rode him, he’d break first and do everything he could. He won almost every time I rode him. He tried his guts out.”

One of 127 winners by Parr Passum, who sired champions Tonto Parr and Above Parr 2, Chiller was chestnut gelding foaled in 1966 out of Little Charge, a Thoroughbred mare by They Say.

Chiller was bred by R.H. Rischman of Chula Vista, a dusty border enclave between San Diego and the California line, the state where the gelding started all of his 73 official races. Breaking his maiden on his second out, which he won by three parts of side at Bay Meadows on May 6, 1969, Chiller faced the starter first in allowance and AA speed index races but spent most of his career bouncing up and down the claiming ranks. Running for tags from $1,600 to $10,000, he was haltered by new owners (or previous owners who wanted him back) at least five times between May 1971 and his last trip to post, on the final day of 1975 at Los Alamitos.

None of this is to say that Chiller couldn’t run. A hard-knocking plater who once put together a string of seven consecutive victories, Chiller scored in 27 races, finished second in 17 and third in nine, for a W/P/S record of 55-of-73. The gelding earned $42,980 in his career, this at a time when, on the day his saddle was pulled for the last time, you could buy a brand-new Ford F-150 for $2,550 and the average house in this country cost $42,500.

So while not the most talented horse, he ran where he belonged.

“They kept him cheap because that’s where he could win,” Perner said. “It’s just incredible how honest that horse was. He’d run his guts out.”

It looked like something else was coming out.
“He always washed out,” Perner remembered.  “It looked like soap running down his neck. That’s how worried and frettin’ he was. You never warmed him up, you just stayed with the pony. Then he’d stand in the gate like a statute, and when they’d kick it, he’s gone. He’d run straight as an arrow. And just run his heart out. I never had anything else like him.”

Perner’s last ride on Chiller was June 26, 1972. The horse won by a nose as the jockey went into one of his several retirements from the saddle. But Chiller was far from retirement. The gelding scored 11 of his lifetime victories after that, including three from 11 races (with three seconds and a third) in 1975, his last season in the trenches.

“Chiller was an incredible horse. He was cheap, but he wasn’t cheap to me,” Perner said. “To give everything like he would every time he was asked was incredible. I’ve ridden a lot of horses, but I never rode a horse that was that honest and that tough. What a great heart that horse had.

“That’s why he has to be mentioned over any stake horse,” Perner declared. “He had to grind it out from the little claiming races. He’s No. 1 to me.”