With the 2016 Triple Crown season in the rearview mirror, the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” season is in full gear. While international “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races for this year’s event have been taking place since January, the first U.S. race of the year was the June 4 Shoemaker Mile Stakes, with other North American races coming fast and furious after that.
The filly proved to be the best 3-year-old filly in California last year, first winning the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes by 2 ½ lengths. A little over a month later, Stellar Wind showed just how dominant she was over the California fillies when she closed from last to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks by 5 ¼ lengths in masterful fashion.
Stellar Wind shipped east for the Kentucky Oaks in May and went off as the favorite. But as is sometimes the case for closers, she ran into trouble in the race and had to swing nine wide as she entered the stretch. She closed her deficit on the leaders from 10 ¾ lengths at the first call to 4 ¾ lengths at the finish line but it was only good enough for fourth place, her worst-ever finish.
Sadler gave Stellar Wind a little time to relax after the Oaks and she returned to the races seven weeks later. Like she had in her second start, Stellar Wind raced closer to the lead, no more than two lengths off the pace at any point. But it wasn’t an easy win for the filly, who battled around the turn and into the stretch, only prevailing by a nose over Tara’s Tango in the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks.
Taking a step on the path Beholder had taken to the 3-year-old championship in 2013, Stellar Wind headed to the Grade 3 Torrey Pines at Del Mar for her next start. Again staying right behind the leader, Stellar Wind was back to her old self when taking over the lead on the far turn, pulling away by four lengths with a furlong left and adding a quarter length to that by the wire for a 4 ¼-length victory over Big Book.
In a division that was wide open going to the Breeders’ Cup, the Distaff made all the difference in who took home the champion 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award.
Returning to her spot near the back of the pack, a place she hadn’t been in a few races, Stellar Wind was 9 ¼ lengths behind the leading My Sweet Addiction after the first call. But Stellar Wind slowly cut into the lead and was only 2 ¼ lengths away from the leader on the far turn. Stellar Wind engaged Stopchargingmaria in the stretch and was bumped but continued her battle with that foe. The margin of victory came down to a neck with Stopchargingmaria winning the battle and then surviving an objection with Stellar Wind in second, 3 ½ lengths in front of fellow 3-year-old Curalina.
Stellar Wind first was named an Eclipse finalist for the 3-year-old filly award and then took home the championship with 108 votes compared with 47 for runner-up I’m a Chatterbox.
Stellar Wind missed the first half of the season this year before making her 4-year-old debut in the Grade 1 Vanity Mile Stakes. Taking on 2013 champion 3-year-old filly (in addition to two other championships) Beholder, it was a tough test for Stellar Wind in her return. Stellar Wind was no match for Beholder in this race but showed that she was as willing as ever, finishing second by 1 ½ lengths.
In the Clement L. Hirsch, Victor Espinoza, who had been on Stellar Wind every time she’d run, tried a different tact against Beholder. Beholder was usually left alone on the front end due to her high cruising speed, but Espinoza wasn’t going to let her get away with that. He urged Stellar Wind right out of the gate to stick with Beholder, staying near her outside hip the whole time. Espinoza made an early move, going head to head with Beholder as the field entered the far turn to create a stretch duel for the ages. The two mares traded the lead back and forth when they were nose and nose with Stellar Wind only getting the best of Beholder a few strides from the finish line to win by half-length. The win was not only a huge victory in terms of résumé, it also guaranteed Stellar Wind a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita in early November.
2016 CLEMENT L. HIRSCH
Stellar Wind has proved an extremely good filly, possibly one of the best we’ll see in the Distaff this year. She is highly effective on the Santa Anita main track, winning three of her four starts there and finishing second to Beholder in her only loss on the track. One thing that I really like about Stellar Wind is that she has demonstrated that she can win from the back of the field or from near the front. This is a tactical advantage for any horse, but especially at the high level at which Stellar Wind is competing.
But don’t think the Distaff will be a cakewalk for Stellar Wind. If Beholder decides to go there instead of the Classic, Stevens won’t fall for what Espinoza did in the Clement L. Hirsch. The field should also include the impressive Songbird, who looks like she may be the favorite for the Distaff, and Curalina, who finished third in the Distaff last year. The race also could feature multiple Grade 1 winner I’m a Chatterbox and last year’s Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria. The division is definitely loaded with talent and most, if not all, of the mares and fillies will be pointing for this Breeders’ Cup race.
Curlin had an amazing weekend on July 30-31 with Stellar Wind winning a Grade 1 at Del Mar on Saturday night and Exaggerator winning the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes on Sunday. Those weren’t his only big winners with the stallion adding two other stakes victories during that 48-hour stretch.
Here is the meat of what I said about Curlin in last week’s feature on Exaggerator:
Curlin won many of the biggest route races in the world during his career, so it’s not surprising that his runners are effective at longer distances. That stamina has helped his runners in the Triple Crown races with Curlin having a classic-placed horse in each of his crops with Ride On Curlin earning a runner-up finish in the 2014 Preakness and 2015 Belmont third-place finisher Keen Ice, in addition to his two [Belmont Stakes] winners. While most of Curlin’s stakes runners are performing best at a mile and longer, he does have stakes performers at shorter distances, including Off the Tracks winning the Margate Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs this year before winning the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes a few months later.
It is notable on the filly end to add that last year, he had the second- and third-place finishers in the Distaff in Stellar Wind and Curalina. They have been his only two Distaff runners to date with the stallion having six Breeders’ Cup runners overall with two fourths, a fifth and a six outside of the Distaff finishers.
Stellar Wind is the first foal out of the Malibu Moon mare Evening Star, who won two races in her career. Evening Star has some recognizable names in her pedigree with perhaps the most familiar name this year being 2015 Los Alamitos Futurity winner and 2016 Kentucky Derby runner Mor Spirit being a great-grandson of Stellar Wind’s second dam [maternal grandmother].
Stellar Wind’s family has 17 stakes winners under her first four dams, including Italian champion Melodist, multiple Grade 1 winner Love Sign and 2006 Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity winner Great Hunter. Her family screams that it’s a source of classy dirt routers, so it isn’t a surprise that Stellar Wind has kept up the tradition.
Sadler is pointing Stellar Wind to the Zenyatta Stakes in late September as her only race between now and the Breeders’ Cup.