Stellar Wind Wins Grade 1 Beholder Mile Named for Former Rival
Stellar Wind won the Grade 1 Beholder Mile on Saturday at Santa Anita Park, breaking Vale Dori’s six-race win streak.
In her second race this year, Stellar Wind battled Vale Dori throughout the stretch, finishing in front by a neck. Finest City, the 2016 Eclipse Award champion filly sprinter, was 4 3/4 lengths back in third in the three-horse field.
“It was closer than I thought (it would be) today, but the other mare (Vale Dori’s) really a top mare …,” Stellar Wind’s trainer, John Sadler, said after the race. “Vale Dori has won six in a row, been dominating around here all winter, so we’re thrilled.”
Sadler said he couldn’t recall such a small field for a Grade 1 race.
“The top three looked so good nobody really wanted to be in there,” the trainer said.
Show Stealer and Faithfully were scratched Friday from the race.
Co-owner Kosta Hronis noted that Stellar Wind was lightly raced last year — when she ran four times — because her connections were focusing then on whether she was healthy and if she would continue to race as a 5-year-old.
“She turned out great. She’s just been a marvelous horse to watch. You know she’s a battler,” Hronis said, noting that Stellar Wind’s stretch duel reminded him of her races last year with Beholder.
Hronis said he believed jockey Victor Espinoza’s decision to move ahead of Finest City and stalk Vale Dori was “probably the key to the race.”
“We thought they were going to go out in front of us, but when Finest City didn’t go, Victor waited a little bit and then he decided to jump on it,” Hronis said. “I think that was probably the decision that won the race.”
Espinoza — who will be inducted in August in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame — called Stellar Wind “an incredible mare,” but said he’s got a job to do, too.
“She’s waiting for me to like really encourage her to go forward, but she’s always been like that since the (first) day I rode her. She wins by, you know, enough. She never wins by five. She’s always winning, you know, by a head or neck, but that’s enough for her,” Espinoza said.
He said he was thinking about Stellar Wind’s duels last year with Beholder, the four-time Eclipse Award winner. Stellar Wind beat Beholder in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch and Grade 1 Zenyatta, but lost to Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and the Vanity, which has since been re-named the Beholder Mile in her honor.
Sadler said the 5-year-old daughter of Curlin may be pointed to the Clement L. Hirsch again this year.
Stellar Wind’s trainer said he thought the mile distance of the Beholder was “a little bit short” for the 3-year-old champion filly from 2015, “but she ran great.”
“She’s so tough and she doesn’t lose photos,” Sadler said of the tight finish.
Stellar Wind paid $3 to win and completed the race in 1:36:14, bringing her record to nine wins, two seconds and one third in 14 starts. She has just over $2 million in earnings.
The 5-year-old daughter of Curlin won the Eclipse in 2015 for 3-year-old champion filly and was a runner-up to Beholder for the older dirt female in 2016.
— Beholder’s former trainer, Richard Mandella, presented the winning trophy to Stellar Wind’s connections.
Just a race earlier, Mandella saddled the 7-year-old Bal a Bali to a win in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile Stakes on turf.
“It’s very gratifying, but you expect him to win every time because he’s a great horse,” Mandella told reporters afterward.
The trainer noted that he thinks the industry needs to give the Brazilian Triple Crown winner “the credit due” because he “came back to be such a good horse” after overcoming a battle with laminitis while in quarantine in 2014 after being shipped from Brazil.
Bal a Bali — now owned by Calumet Farm — has 15 wins, one second and four thirds in 25 starts. Mandella said the mile seems to be the right distance for the horse, who won his first start this year in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes at Santa Anita in March before finishing fifth in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.
As for what’s next, Mandella said, “Oh, we’ll think about that. We’re just going to enjoy this one. Breeders’ Cup Mile will be the long-term goal.”