Stel­lar Wind’s nar­row vic­tory is some­thing to be­hold

Los Angeles Times - - PERSONAL FINANCE - By John Cherwa john.cherwa@la­times.com Twit­ter: @jcherwa

You couldn’t help but think of a year ago. Two great mares bat­tling down the stretch, Stel­lar Wind and Be­holder, with Stel­lar Wind just get­ting in front at the wire. Twice.

Be­holder has since re­tired af­ter a sim­i­lar heart-in­y­our-throat stretch run in the Breed­ers’ Cup Distaff, beat­ing the pre­vi­ously un­de­feated Song­bird. In fact, her re­tire­ment was noted with the re­nam­ing of Santa Anita’s Van­ity Mile as the Be­holder Mile.

So it couldn’t be any more fit­ting that Stel­lar Wind du­pli­cated those feats with a sim­i­lar stir­ring stretch run to beat the game Vale Dori and win the in­au­gu­ral $400,000 Be­holder Mile by a neck Satur­day.

Vale Dori, who had won her last six races, broke on the lead with Finest City, rid­den by Mike Smith, on the out­side and Stel­lar Wind a few steps back in the three­horse race.

Jockey Vic­tor Espinoza then gunned Stel­lar Wind into a stalk­ing po­si­tion on the out­side of Vale Dori and Rafael Be­jarano en­ter­ing the first turn.

“[Vic­tor] said Mike out­broke him a lit­tle bit and then when he thought they were go­ing a lit­tle slow he had to rush him up in there to not let Vale Dori get an easy lead,” said John Sadler, trainer of Stel­lar Wind.

The two re­mained in that po­si­tion un­til the top of the stretch, where the duel got in­tense. Stel­lar Wind pulled even be­fore Vale Dori pushed ahead on the in­side. Stel­lar Wind fought back, drew even and took the lead with about 50 yards to go.

Espinoza used the whip nine times down the stretch, usu­ally a sign that a horse is run­ning out of gas. But not in this case.

“I had con­fi­dence in her be­cause she’s al­ways like that,” Espinoza said. “She doesn’t do much on her own. She’s an in­cred­i­ble mare,but I had to do my job. She was wait­ing for me to en­cour­age her to go for­ward. She’s al­ways been like that. … No mat­ter where she runs, she al­ways wins by a head or neck. That’s enough for her.”

It was Stel­lar Wind’s ninth win in 14 races.

“She’s a bat­tler,” said Kosta Hro­nis, who along with brother Pete owns Stel­lar Wind. “Vale Dori came back again a sec­ond time, it re­ally re­minded me of the Be­holder race when Be­holder came back and Stel­lar fought back a sec­ond time. That’s re­ally what we ex­pect out of her. She’s re­ally gutty.”

Fa­vorite Stel­lar Wind paid $3 to win. There was no place or show wa­ger­ing.

Even with a sec­ond-place fin­ish, Vale Dori moved into the top ranks of fe­male rac­ing. While she had pre­vi­ously beaten Eclipse Award-win­ning Finest City, she re­deemed her­self from the Zeny­atta Stakes last year when Stel­lar Wind, who also has an Eclipse Award, and Be­holder beat her by about 12 lengths.

“I’m very happy with her race,” Be­jarano said of the Bob Baf­fert-trained mare. “We got beat by a great horse. My horse fin­ished strong. When Vic­tor moved like he did [go­ing into the first turn] it put the pres­sure on us.”

Be­jarano shook the reins at Vale Dori sev­eral times to keep her go­ing but didn’t use any other en­cour­age­ment.

It is un­clear when the two 5-year-olds will meet again, but Stel­lar Wind prob­a­bly is pointed to the Cle­ment L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar in July.

“She’s so tough and she doesn’t lose pho­tos,” Sadler said of his mare. “It was closer than I thought. But the other horse is re­ally a top mare now. Vale Dori had won six in a row and dom­i­nated around here all win­ter. So we’re thrilled.”

Stel­lar Wind prob­a­bly is more suited for a lit­tle more dis­tance, hav­ing beaten Be­holder last year twice at1 1⁄16 miles in the Hirsch at Del Mar and the Zeny­atta at Santa Anita.

In the co-fea­ture, the Brazil­ian-bred Bal A Bali ral­lied down the stretch to win the $400,000 Shoe­maker Mile on the turf.

Un­der the usual care­ful ride of Mike Smith, Bal A Bali out­mus­cled Farhaan by a nose. Heart To Heart lead most of the race, even tak­ing a 2 ½ length lead into the stretch. But turf rac­ing is usu­ally a game won by closers.

Bal A Bali paid $8.20 to win, $4.20 to place and $3 to show in the seven-horse field.

In 2014, Bal A Bali came down with a life-threat­en­ing case of lamini­tis, a dis­ease where the bone of the leg can pro­trude into the hoof.

“It’s very grat­i­fy­ing, but you ex­pect him to win ev­ery time be­cause he’s such a good horse,” said win­ning trainer Richard Man­della. “With the set­backs he’s had … the in­dus­try needs to give the credit due that he over­came it and came back to be such a good horse.”

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