ALBEMARLE-BRED BIDS FOR TOP FEMALE THOROUGHBRED
By Nick Hahn
She was foaled in Albemarle County a little over five years ago and for just over two months last fall she was the best female thoroughbred in America. This Saturday, she will be taking steps seeking that accolade again.
Stellar Wind, the last horse that Peggy Augustus’ Keswick Stable will ever breed, faces several of the best fillies and mares in the newly renamed Beholder Stakes this Saturday night at Santa Anita Race Course in California. Her spot in the field is intriguing for last fall in California, she twice beat the now retired Beholder, whom the race is now named after.
In 2016, Beholder won her fourth Eclipse Award, factored largely on her win in November in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff over Stellar Wind who finished fourth after getting a poor start out of gate. The two foes split in their 2016 head to head matchups, each winning twice.
However, from late July through October, Stellar Wind took the lead away from Beholder twice in winning two Grade 1s, the highest classification of racing. Those two victories in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar and Zenyatta Mile at Santa Anita, set up the showdown in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff.
Now a five-year-old, Stellar Wind was the private purchase of Hronis Racing shortly after her first two starts as a two-year-old at Maryland’s Laurel Park in 2014. After being shipped to California, Victor Espinosa received her mount and won the Santa Ysabel and Santa Anita Oaks justifying Stellar Wind to become the morning line favorite in the Kentucky Oaks, the Kentucky Derby for fillies, run the day prior. The Virginia-bred ran fourth in that race, the worst finish of her career. Since then she has competed and won among the best fillies and mares in the country, just nearly missing on a 2015 Breeder’s Cup Distaff win by a neck to Stopchargingmaria at Keeneland in a decision that survived a steward’s inquiry and jockey objection for impeded travel in the stretch.
Currently Stellar Wind has won 8 of her 13 starts including her first start of 2017 in the $600,000 Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, a comfortable win by a length and three-quarters described in the official Equibase racing charts as “steadily handled.” She is by Curlin out of the mare Evening Star by Malibu Moon. Both Curlin and Malibu Moon are among the top seven sires of 2017.
“If you have a good older horse with talent like her—the progression from 4 to 5 isn’t as well known as from 3 to 4—but just being that solid racehorse with another year of maturity, she’s a little stronger at 5 than she was at 4.”
Whether Stellar Wind becomes the best female thoroughbred in North America may be determined within the next week, however she may already be the best thoroughbred, male or female, to come out of the Charlottesville area. Margaret Van Clief (Nydrie Stud) was a co-breeder of 1947 Kentucky Derby winner, Jet Pilot. Keswick also bred Semoran who started in the Kentucky Derby in 1996. Stellar Wind, for the first nineteen months of her life, was a resident of northeastern Albemarle County, before being sold twice as a yearling in sales at Saratoga Springs, NY and Timonium, MD.
“It’s a surprising thrill, being at the end of the line of Keswick Stables,” breeder Peggy Augustus told the Daily Progress prior to her Kentucky Oaks two years ago. “It’s nice to go out with a bang. Even if she doesn’t win the Oaks, she’s done enough now.”
And then some.