Kosta Hronis’ Stellar Wind had to put every ounce of her heart on the line to defeat Vale Dori in Sunday’s Grade 1 Clement L Hirsch Stakes. The two rivals, one-two in the same order in the G1 Beholder Mile last out, were dead even at the head of the lane, but Victor Espinoza was able to get just a bit more out of the dead game Stellar Wind to put her head in front at the finish. A 5-year-old daughter of Curlin trained by John Sadler, she covered 1 1/16 miles over Del Mar’s fast main track in 1:43.92 to earn an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff this fall.
“Once she broke (well), I felt the race was all over,” Espinoza said. “I have so much confidence in her, I knew she’d win. And she showed me to be right again. I had that other horse (Vale Dori) measured. I knew I could win. It was a good race; side by side down the stretch. But I was going to be the winner. I had to win it for John (trainer Sadler). It was his birthday. And my horse had plenty left; she still had plenty in the tank.”
It was billed as a two-horse race despite the field of five fillies and mares, and the Hirsch appeared to be a match race from the start. Vale Dori came out of the gate with the lead under Mike Smith, and Espinoza and Stellar Wind kept her company just a half-length behind all the way through the backstretch. The grey Vale Dori set fractions of :23.81 and :48.46, slowing down significantly in the second quarter mile, but Espinoza was not tricked into engaging Stellar Wind in the fight too early.
Indeed, it wasn’t until mid-way through the far turn that Espinoza moved Stellar Wind to be eye-to-eye with Vale Dori. Turning for home the two were stride-for-stride, and all through the stretch they did battle. Inch by painful inch, Stellar Wind moved in front of Vale Dori, only able to put a head’s distance between the two at the wire. It would be Stellar Wind who would defend her title in the Hirsch, in which she shocked the great Beholder last year, and Vale Dori had to settle for second once again. Faithfully checked in third.
“Just what I wanted for my birthday,” Sadler smiled. “She ran really well. I was nervous because of the way favorites have fared here. But she’s a good mare, she came through and she stuck her nose out at the end like she usually does. It looked like it was going to set up pretty much like the last race; Vale Dori is the speed. We know we can’t sit off her too far, you’ve got to hook into her and wear her down. No plans (for a next start) now. We’ll start looking tomorrow. But for now, we’re really happy.”
Bred in Virginia by Keswick Stables and Stonestreet Thoroughbreds, Stellar Wind was a $40,000 yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale, and later brought $86,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old in training sale. Her career highlights include wins in the Santa Anita Oaks, 2016 Hirsch, Zenyatta Stakes, Apple Blossom and Beholder Mile. Stellar Wind has now won 10 of her 15 career starts for earnings of over $2.2 million, and will look to improve on her fourth-place finish in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff this November at Del Mar.
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