Stellar Wind Honors Beholder With Gutsy Mile Victory Over Vale Dori

by | 06.03.2017 | 7:45pm
Stellar Wind is one of several top racemares cataloged to the Keeneland November sale

Hronis Racing's Stellar Wind twice defeated last year's champion older mare, but could do no better than fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at the end of the season. This year, the 5-year-old daughter of Curlin has returned with a vengeance to win both the G1 Apple Blossom and, on Saturday at Santa Anita, the newly-renamed G1 Beholder Mile. Ridden boldly by jockey Victor Espinoza, Stellar Wind pressed Vale Dori all the way around the one mile course on the fast main track, and was just able to get past that rival by a head at the wire. Trained by John Sadler, the mare stopped the clock in 1:36.14.

“She's so tough. She doesn't lose photos. This was closer than I thought it was going to be but that other mare (Vale Dori) is really a top mare now. We're thrilled,” Sadler said. “She's been training great. She's even stronger than she was last year at this point in the year so we're really excited. We were ready to go.”

As expected, both the frontrunning Vale Dori and the champion sprinter Finest City were quite quick out of the starting gate. Stellar Wind was noticeably slower, allowing her rivals a half-length advantage, but Espinoza saw that Finest City did not intend to press the leading Vale Dori's pace. He gunned Stellar Wind up between the two mares, taking over second just a half-length off Vale Dori's lead, ensuring that the leader would set an honest pace. After a first quarter in :24.12, he pressed Vale Dori even more to get the half-mile in :47.64. Finest City was a good three lengths off those two.

“I wanted to let them go but they slowed down pretty good into the first turn,” Espinoza said. “I thought ‘we can't do that.' I didn't want to send her too much, but I didn't want to just sit with her. The other two broke in front of me so I thought I could follow them. Mike took a hold of his horse going into the first turn so I wanted to find an opening and just let her run. I let her go and just put her right next to Vale Dori.”

Rounding the far turn, Espinoza encouraged Stellar Wind to move up alongside Vale Dori, on whom jockey Rafael Bejarano was absolutely motionless, galloping along on the mare with a six-race winning streak to her name. The two top contenders turned for home on nearly even terms, and both jockeys were suddenly laying flat over their mare's withers, asking for every ounce of strength and speed down the stretch.

A very game Vale Dori was eventually worn down by Stellar Wind at the sixteenth pole, but Vale Dori kept up the fight all the way through the wire. In the photo finish it was determined that Stellar Wind had defeated Vale Dori by a head, handing that mare her first defeat in seven races. Finest City never seriously threatened, and finished third.

“She has so much power that it's hard for any other horse to beat her when it comes to head and head down the lane,” said Espinoza. “I wasn't worried. I had confidence in her. She's always like that in the stretch. She won't do much on her own. She's amazing, she's an incredible mare, but I have to do my job. She always wins by enough. I have to encourage her to go forward. She's been like that from the first day I rode her.”

Bred in Virginia by Stonestreet and Keswick Stables, Stellar Wind was an $86,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Yearling sale purchase. She has been more than a bargain for that price, scoring her first Grade 1 as a 3-year-old in the Santa Anita Oaks, then adding another two top-level victories last year in the Clement Hirsch and the Zenyatta. An additional Grade 1 double to kick off this 5-year-old season has her record at nine wins from 14 starts, with earnings of over $2 million.

“She's so game, that's why she wins these races,” added Kosta Hronis. “She's back. Our whole deal with bringing her back this year was if she was healthy and training well. Victor's early move here was the key to the race. This reminded me of running against Beholder.”

  • Lehane

    Stellar Wind viciously whipped again! Whipping a horse on the turn is wrong, the horse is going at fast speed and attempting to manouvre a tight turn whilst at the same time she’s trying to keep her balance. The other two riders didn’t touch their horses on the turn (that i could see) and allowed them to keep their balance. The reason Vale Dori’s rider appeared to be ‘motionless’ was because he was riding with horsemanship, a far superior rider. SW raced in fear, the predator being the monkey on her back with the whip in his hand. And Espinoza post race all smiles and strokes her appearing to show that he likes this animal when he beats the living daylights out of her every time he gets on her back. What a hypocrite. The look on her face said it all and she’s not forgotten the terrible beating she copped when this creep broke her skin. It was horrible to watch this race. No wonder racing is losing its popularity and in decline.

    • Michael Shea

      I wish I could recall the race from last week, but I watched an awful lot over the Memorial Day weekend. In any case, I saw two horses neck and neck entering the stretch and prepared for a battle to the wire. That possibility ended when one of the jockeys used his whip. Once. His horse nearly came to a stop. You had better know who you’re riding before you use that whip, because some have the total opposite reaction to it. I’m against the use of a whip on any horse. But the idea that any trainer would sanction the use of a whip on a Grade One winner is a mystery to me.

      • Lehane

        Have seen similar to what you’ve described. The opposite can also happen, the famous Darley/Godolphin colt, Helmet, ran right across the track in the final stages of a race when he was struck by his jockey. If my memory serves me right, when the stewards interviewed him (nearly brought other horses and riders down) he hadn’t touched the horse with the whip up until then and he was shocked with Helmet’s reaction.
        I’ve seen jockeys accidentally drop their whip up to 300 metres before the wire and win, and in some cases the horses weren’t even in the market. And this from a young female jockey when the stewards grilled her for her lack of use of the whip (beaten to the wire by a nose) –
        “She added in her opinion placing ………. under heavy pressure where the whip would be applied behind the saddle has the antithesis effect on the gelding and the gelding has shown in previous performances that it is not inclined to perform to its optimum in these circumstances.” And backed up by her trainer –
        “He added in his opinion ……… resents being placed under heavy pressure and responds better to being held up and placed under minimal pressure in the straight.”
        I can provide the link to confirm.
        And I remember the American, Buddy Johnston who owned Acclamation studying race replays and noticed that when jockey started to whip Acclamation this horse would slow down and lose his action. Instructed his jockey not to whip Acclamation because the horse felt he was being punished and would slow down. If my memory serves me right, Acclamation was never whipped again and went on to win races! And then to stud.

    • Erin Casseday

      And you are so full of you know what! Where did you come from? But it would be nice if you went back there.

      • SteveD

        Sometimes rules don’t apply.

  • Ida Lee

    I just adore the ladies….what a show they put on …. Vale, did you eyeball Stellar?? Told you not to ….Congratulations to the great Stellar Wind and to her connections on a job well done … and congratulations to Vale to on a great effort ….

  • Kathie J BALFOUR

    > LOVE STELLAR WIND ! Sorry to read the comment here about Victor’s whip on her..it did bother me when he used it…Stellar Wind looked startled when the whip was being used on her while trying to do her best. and it was looking like she could have won without it ? But I am not a jockey and what do I know ? Besides I do like Victor and appreciate all he’s done with his career.

    • Lehane

      One doesn’t have to be a jockey to know that beating a horse with a whip when the horse is doing her best, is wrong. Suggest you google the Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron whose views on whipping are refreshing. The young people in our 5 generations racing family have lost interest, no longer buy racehorses preferring to put their money into other sports like sailing. When we ask why they’re walking away from racing, they say “we hate watching jockeys whipping horses – that’s not entertainment”.

      • David Worley

        Yep, one young person told me that this was “depressing and repulsive,” I’ve heard others use the words “barbaric.” In a world where Ringling Bros was just shut down, you’d think horse racing would get the message.

    • Erin Casseday

      California has a fairly strict whipping rule in place, which not all states do. Victor was riding within the rules. It was not overkill as some are trying to make it out to be.

      • Lehane

        Doesn’t say much for the whip rules in the USA.
        Victor Espinoza on American Pharaoh in the 2015 Kentucky Derby struck AP about 32 times in less than 40 seconds. There was a public outcry worldwide on social media. VE was putting so much force into whipping the horse that he was almost out of the saddle…go figure.
        VE uses so much force he cut the skin of Stellar Wind a year or so ago and was fined.
        Enough said.

      • David Worley

        Totally disagree. Espinoza struck Stellar Wind with really strong strikes 11 times from the top of the stretch (go watch it). This doesn’t include strikes on the turn. By contrast, Bejarano on Vale Dori struck her either 4 or 5 times and only when he was in trouble in the last furlong. If that was “with riding rules” then the rules need to be changed. Personally, I think there should be a strict 3 strike rule. After that the horses are reordered and the jockeys are fined. The beating of horses on the stretch is a total deterrent for many new fans coming to the sport.

        • Erin Casseday

          I can’t help that you don’t like the rule, but he was within it. As to Vale Dori, it is a well known fact that she does not like the whip and does not respond as well. I was kind of surprised that RB hit her at all because of this.

          • David Worley

            Erin, I went back and closely read the rule and rewatched the stretch run and I agree with you. I agree VE was within the rules (there might have been one sequence where he didn’t urge with a different method but for the most part he did). That said, the rules need to be changed if the sport wants to attract new fans. People are VERY bothered by the sight of horses getting whipped down the stretch. Ask any newcomer to the track and you will hear very harsh responses to that element of the sport.

            What do you personally think about the whip rule?

  • gus stewart

    Hate to say it, but have to agree that racing really has to understand that the whipping of a class horse or any horse excessively is not going to keep or attract new fans. I’ve been around many year’s and understand its a biz and money is important, but ive said this about certain riders, they use the whip to much, thus u have to get rid of them. I mean i bet a horse the other day that won but i thought to myself,, this guy sure has no problem with workg a horse over. If i lose without a whip and everyone else doesn’t use them thats fine.. victors a great interview but i think he loses more fans then gains them.

    • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

      I just watched the race on the You Tube replay, I did not watch it live maybe because there were only 3 horses in the race.
      However, to bring up what you brought up I didn’t really see it.
      I saw what I normally see

      Now, what my gripe is about this Beholder Mile is that it turned into a Match Race.
      To me that is the bigger problem!!!!
      Why even run the race at all? There was no real strategy here, all horses got to do what they wanted to do.

      Vale Dori got to set the pace
      Stellar Wind got to stalk

      Finest City did nothing.

      The race that I enjoyed was the Shoemaker Mile, that was a good race with a good sized field.

      • McGov

        I’m on your page. I didn’t see anything excessive……normal use of whip from this seat.
        I also didn’t watch live because of 3 horses. I see that I didn’t miss much.
        How on earth could this race generate interest in our sport? $400,000 could be better spent than on a “race” that looked more like a paid training session.

        • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

          Hear! Hear!

        • David Worley

          Totally agree. If you are the racing secretary at Santa Anita you should be really embarrassed not just due to this race, but due to the abundance of VERY small fields.

      • St Owen Racing

        The renown Vanity Handicap (run at HOL) was renamed the Beholder Mile with condition and distance changes while still maintaining Gr I status. The Vanity was one of the most prestigious races for F&M (think Zenyatta won it several times) but now has been reduced to this. However, the two scratched horses would never have made a difference and the battle between Stellar Wind and Vale Dori showcased two of the best distaffers in the country who chose to stay put here in So Cal. Nice to see a couple of 5-year-olds mares with no signs of letting up yet.

        • Michael Castellano

          Proves that horses often peak at 4 – 5 years old. But many, particularly very good male dirt horses, never get to race that long.

          • St Owen Racing

            Yup. And it’s a shame.

        • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

          I will give it that, but there simply needs to be more horses
          Also, I think you are right about Zenyatta.

      • D2elC

        I was at the race and texted a friend who couldn’t make the race the result, “Stellar Wind but Victor whipped the $h!t out if her.” Victor’s arm was in the air winding up to whip the mare on the turn. Really stood out to me and I loved his work with Chrome and Pharoah.

    • David Worley

      I think you are right about whip use deterring new fans. I know many youngsters who are totally turned off from the sport for this very reason.

  • McGov

    Wow….she beat two horses. Exciting stuff.

    • john

      Sad these races come up so damn short.

  • Michael Castellano

    I thought Victor was more restrained with the whip than usual. He actually paused a bit between strikes, and the other jockey was also about as busy on the whip. I have heard some riders maintain that the whip loses as many races as it wins. The real problem is that the betters want to win money on the horse they play, and it has to appear that the jockey is making maximum effort. Although it is also said that a vigorous rousing of a horse can be done without the whip. Some horses can only be ridden this way, and react badly to the whip.

    • mingo

      Seems to me there is some prejudice against Victor. I watch a lot of races and see much heavier hands than his.

      • Michael Castellano

        Other, less famous slashers, get a free pass.

    • David Worley

      I’d be curious what you’d think about American racing moving towards super strict whip rules (like x number of strikes per race 3 or 5) –or– zero whip use. I think the use of whip is a HUGE deterrent for new fans (particularly younger ones). Any thoughts on this? Crazy? Doable? Thoughts.

      • Michael Castellano

        Like anything else that would benefit the sport, and the horses, racing officials would view it negatively, fearing it might reduce betting handle. Which in a sick way is almost humorous, as most hard core gamblers already think the sport is not on the level.

        • Lehane

          The RSPCA in Australia who opposes the whipping of racehorses recently conducted a survey when it asked punters/gamblers if the whip was banned would they continue to bet on the horses.
          Result was that 9 out of 10 said yes they would continue to bet on the horses.
          I can provide the link if requested.

          • Michael Castellano

            Of course that sounds about right, but among larger, and hard core gamblers alone, it might be different. Whipping, however, is still something that should be banned if racing wants a future.

          • David Worley

            My take on gambling is that gamblers want a level playing field. So intrinsically the problem is “did my jockey give maximum effort” which is why you either need zero whip use –or– a very serious and legalistically enforced small number of strikes (like 3 per race). Personally, I’d rather see no whip use for the reasons that I’ve already stated.

          • Michael Castellano

            Total ban is the only workable solution. I’ve seen many jocks work a horse hard without the whip.

          • David Worley

            Interesting, could you post a link to that announcement?

  • Michael Shea

    I have never understood why these fields come up so small. Where is the shame in running against this kind of class and finishing third or fourth? It appears that we will have a full field in the Belmont Stakes and that certainly adds interest and excitement to the race.

  • crosslinks09

    Dear Staff Reporter: Please give credit where credit is due…Stellar Wind was bred in VIRGINIA by Peggy Augustus of Keswick Stables in Keswick, VA in partnership with Stonestreet Stables. The story is that the filly picked her own name. She said, “she was going to run like the wind and wanted to be named after the wind.”.

  • D Ledford

    Vale Dori swished that tail everytime she was hit.

  • Denise Ledford

    In an interview after the race Victor Espinoza stated this about Stellar Wind. ” She has so much power that it’s hard for any other horse to beat her when it comes to head and head down the lane,” said Espinoza. “I wasn’t worried. I had confidence in her. She’s always like that in the stretch. She won’t do much on her own. She’s amazing, she’s an incredible mare, but I have to do my job. She always wins by enough. I have to encourage her to go forward. She’s been like that from the first day I rode her.” In other words, he was not going to take any chances being so close to the finish on this particular horse. He knows she has a tendacy to be lazy and not necessarily do her best unless pushed to do so . AKA, the whip….. Having said that, wonder how the race would have ended if neither rider had a whip to use. Vale Dori obviously did not like the whip and appeared to slow under it rather than move forward. You could tell by the way she switched that tail when he hit her she did not like it. Not that any horse does like being whipped. It is just more obvious with some over others. I think the race would have been far more interesting to watch if the horses had ran their own race , no whip involved.

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