He gushed about the honor of being able to run against the three-time champion in the $300,000, Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, but showed no interest in ducking her on their home turf. The owner also made sure to stress one point.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Hronis said. “We like our horse.”
Now everyone knows why.
The two champions were battled head to head from the five-sixteenths pole to the finish line on Saturday in the Hirsch at Del Mar, but Stellar Wind outdueled her rival to the wire to win by a half-length, ending an eight-race winning streak for Beholder.
Stellar Wind also secured an automatic starting spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff win the win as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
Beholder stumbled slightly at the start under jockey Gary Stevens, but was still able to secure the lead with relative ease while breaking from the inside post. She set fractions of :23.63, :47.38, and 1:10.70 through three-quarters of a mile. Stellar Wind and jockey Victor Espinoza raced about a half-length off of the front-runner on the backstretch. Stellar Wind made her move on the final turn and put a head in front at the top of the stretch, but Beholder was not done.
The 10-time Grade 1 winner dug in on the inside and retook the lead inside the eighth pole, but Beholder could not put Stellar Wind away.
“At the three-furlong pole, I saw that shadow and I knew we might have a race,” Stevens said. “She hit another gear at the three-sixteenths pole, but [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.”
The 4-year-old Curlin filly finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.24.
“The last time, she needed the race,” Espinoza said of a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Vanity Mile Stakes on June 4. “This time she was ready. This was exciting. I knew I was riding against a Hall of Fame jockey on top of the best mare in the country. ... 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.”
It was the first victory for Stellar Wind since the Grade 3 Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar last August. In between she ran hard-earned seconds in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff — which helped propel her to champion 3-year-old filly honors — and to Beholder in the Vanity Mile, her first start in more than seven months.
“You usually don’t get what you want on your birthday, but this year, I did,” said winning trainer John Sadler, who turned 60 Saturday. “She’s been training well. And, if you think about it, she probably was the best in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. ... 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.”
Despite the loss, Beholder’s trainer, Richard Mandella, was still happy with her effort.
“It was a good race for my horse,” Mandella said. “That other mare ran a hell of a race.”
Sent off as the 9-2 second choice, behind Beholder at 1-9, Stellar Wind paid $11, $2.20, and $2.10 across the board. Beholder brought $2.10 to both place and show, and Divina Comedia delivered $2.60 to show.