A stellar wind is defined as “a flow of gas ejected from the upper atmosphere of a star. It is distinguished from the bipolar outflows characteristic of young stars by being less collimated, although stellar winds are not generally spherically symmetric.”
It’s pretty certain not too many racing fans have the vaguest idea as to what that all means, but what they do understand is that “their” Stellar Wind’s performance in Saturday’s $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI) was nothing short of out of this world, as the daughter of Curlin and the Malibu Moon mare Evening Star upset the heavily favored champion Beholder to win the 1 1/16-mile Del Mar feature by a half-length.
Giving trainer John Sadler the greatest gift on his 60th birthday, Hronis Racing’s Stellar Wind also rewarded her faithful backers to the tune of $11, $2.20 and $2.10 to win, place and show. Beholder left the gate at 1-9 and paid $2.10 to place and $2.10 to show. Third choice Divina Comedia crossed the wire another 9 3/4 lengths further back in third and paid $2.60. The $1 exacta was good for $6.50 and the $1 trifecta $11.
Because Beholder was so heavily bet to place and show, there was a minus place pool of $34,260 and a minus show pool of $195,174.
Off the Road and The Dream completed the order of finish.
Going into Saturday’s Hirsch, few doubted it was anything other than a two-horse race with three-time champion Beholder the one to beat. Stellar Wind, also a champion, had finished second behind her main rival in their only meeting in last month’s Vanity Mile (GI) at Santa Anita, but she was returning from an extended winter/spring freshening and was hoping to turn the tables on her highly regarded rival. So while Beholder was the post time favorite, many knew if she were to be upset it would likely come at the hooves of Stellar Wind.
Soon after the field broke — cleanly — from the gate, Beholder took her familiar and comfortable spot on the front end and led the field through early splits of :23.63, :47.38 and 1:10.70 with Stellar Wind never more than about a half-length back and just to her outside. As the top two began to pull away around the far bend, jockey Gary Stevens asked Beholder for her run and jockey Stellar Wind responded with jockey Victor Espinoza pulling his trigger. The pair reached the quarter pole virtually in tandem; Stellar Wind was giving her favored rival all she had and perhaps more.
Down the lane, Stellar Wind and Beholder battled back and forth for the lead, the favorite along the rail under mostly a hand ride and a couple of cracks from Stevens’ whip in deep stretch, and the eventual winner under a seemingly more vigorous ride and determined stick from Espinoza to the outside. And soon after Stellar Wind put her head in front just in time to earn the mile in 1:34.88, she pulled ahead ever so slightly away from Beholder to claim the victory, stopping the clock in 1:41.24 over a fast surface.
“This was exciting,” Espinoza said. “I knew I was riding against a Hall of Fame jockey on top of the best mare in the country. That’s hard. That’s not easy at all. But some luck and some skill got it done. I knew she was working well. Her works were excellent. So I had a lot of confidence in her today. When I came up alongside Gary, it was exciting. She’s a special filly. She showed it today.”
Sadler was grateful for his most special birthday gift from his most favorite trainee, who won last year’s Santa Ynez Stakes (GII), Santa Anita Oaks (GI) and Summertime Oaks (GII) before finishing second to Stopchargingmaria in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) at Keeneland.
“You usually don’t get what you want on your birthday, but this year, I did,” a beaming Sadler said. “She’s been training well. She won here last year. And if you think about it, she probably was the best in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff — I don’t think anybody would dispute that. She had a prep race that was a good race. Victor got off her and said, ‘you know, I think we can beat [Beholder] next time.’ I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to look like an idiot, but we thought we had a chance. The difference was having a race and this one being a little longer. It’s good for her and she’s an improving, lightly raced horse. We’re kind of following Beholder a little bit. She’s a lightly raced mare and we’d like to race her two more years. She’s not a horse to run every month, so we’ll probably run her in the [Oct. 1] Zenyatta Stakes (GI) [at Santa Anita] and then the Breeders’ Cup Distaff [Nov. 4].”
After the race, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella didn’t say much about Beholder’s first defeat in more than two years aside from complimenting the winner, preferring to hold off on discussing whether or not Beholder will still attempt to defend her title in the Pacific Classic in three weeks.
“It was a good race for my horse,” Mandella said. “That other mare ran a helluva race.”
Stevens was equally complimentary of Stellar Wind’s performance, especially after he said Beholder turned in an exceptional performance even in defeat.
“[Beholder] ran her race,” Sevens said. “You’ve got to give them [Stellar Wind’s connections] credit. [Beholder] was comfortable up front. The fractions weren’t hard for her. At the three-furlong pole, I saw that shadow [Stellar Wind] and I knew we might have a race. My mare hit another gear at the three-sixteenth [pole], but she [Stellar Wind] stayed right with us. I was surprised that she was staying with us. All credit to them. They were ready and they ran great.”
Stellar Wind earned $180,000 for her second career grade 1 score and is racing’s newest millionaire with earnings of $1,113,20. Her career line now stands at 10-6-2-1. She was bred in Virginia by the partnership of Keswick Stables and Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC.