The budding rivalry between two of the grittiest female racehorses in the country saw a repeat performance July 30 in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar.
Just like their last matchup in the Beholder Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Park June 3, Hronis Racing's champion Stellar Wind never let Vale Dori get too far away early, pulled alongside the frontrunner in the final turn, and outfinished her rival to win by a neck under Victor Espinoza.
Stellar Wind, a John Sadler-trained daughter of Curlin, earned her sixth Grade 1 win and second straight Hirsch victory, finishing the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:43.92. She earned an automatic berth in the Nov. 3 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff with the win, as the Clement Hirsch is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying race.
Vale Dori, trained by Bob Baffert for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, set fractions of :23.81, :48.81, and 1:13.39 through six furlongs with Mike Smith in the irons, and even after losing the lead, battled on gamely to the finish while racing inside of Stellar Wind.
Baffert stablemate Faithfully came in third, 1 ½ lengths behind the top duo, in her graded stakes debut. Motown Lady and Autumn Flower completed the order of finish.
"Just what I wanted for my birthday," said the 61-year-old Sadler, who earned his 57th stakes win at Del Mar. "Stellar Wind 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 was the speed. We know we can't sit off her too far. You've got to hook into her and wear her down."
Jockey Espinoza, who has mastered the the pressing, outside trip – including Stellar Wind's upset win victory over Beholder in last year's Hirsch – said he was confident as soon as his mare broke well from post 3, just outside Vale Dori in post 2.
"Once she broke I felt the race was all over," the rider said. "I have so much confidence in her. I knew she'd win and she showed me to be right again. I had (Vale Dori) measured. I knew I could win it. It was a good race – side by side down the stretch – but I was going to be the winner."
"She ran great," said Smith of Vale Dori. "She won. She just didn't finish first. She really tried today and I'm proud of her."
The Virginia-bred Stellar Wind now has 10 wins from 15 starts and more than $2.2 million in earnings. Sadler said after the race that he hasn't picked out Stellar Wind's next start, but if she follows her 2016 path, the 5-year-old will run in the Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita – in which she defeated Beholder for a second time last season – as a prep for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff back at Del Mar, where she is undefeated in three starts.