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.”
— XBTV (@WatchXBTV) June 3, 2017
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