In a stunning upset, Hronis Racing’s Stellar Wind, the Eclipse Award winner as champion three-year-old filly of 2015, outran 1-9 favored Beholder in the stretch to win the featured $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes Saturday at Del Mar.
Beholder, a three-time Eclipse Award champion and widely considered one of the truly outstanding female runners of recent years, suffered her first defeat in more than two years as Stellar Wind and jockey Victor Espinoza stalked their vaunted rival from the start of the mile and one-sixteenth race, never allowing Beholder and her Hall of Fame pilot Gary Stevens to get more than a length away.
Turning into the stretch, Espinoza asked Stellar Wind to hook Beholder and the daughter of Curlin responded gamely to take a short advantage which she never relinquished to the wire, finishing a half-length in front in 1:41.24 despite the best efforts of Beholder to rerally.
Beholder, the six-year-old mare by Henny Hughes, was seeking her ninth consecutive triumph, was defending champion in the Hirsch and last summer became the first distaffer to win the Grade I $2 million TVG Pacific Classic, running the fastest mile and one-quarter on the dirt by a female in racing history when she was timed in 1:59.77.
A distant third in the field of five older fillies and mares was Divina Comedia, almost ten lengths behind Beholder and eleven and one-quarter lengths ahead of fourth-place Off The Road. The Dream was fifth and last.
Stellar Wind, providing trainer John Sadler with a significant victory on the occasion of his 60th birthday, had lost to Beholder by one and one-half lengths in their previous encounter, the Vanity Mile, at Santa Anita June 4.
Beholder had not lost since finishing fourth, beaten one length in the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 7, 2014. Included among her streak were five Grade I successes.
Stellar Wind went postward the 9-2 second choice and paid $11, $2.20 and $2.10 after recording her sixth win in ten starts. First money of $180,000 increased her earnings to $1,173,200. Beholder, who carried highweight of 123 pounds to 121 on the winner, returned $2.10 and $2.10, while Divina Comedia paid $2.60. Because of strong wagering on Beholder, there was a minus place pool of $34,260 and a minus show pool of $195,174.
The Clement L. Hirsch Stakes is a “Win and You’re In” event, guaranteeing the winner an automatic berth in the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff Nov. 4 at Santa Anita.
There were no perfect tickets in Saturday’s Pick Six so Sunday’s program will feature a Pick Six carryover of $149,543. Post time for the first of nine races is 2 p.m.
VICTOR ESPINOZA (Stellar Wind, winner) – “There were no special instructions (from trainer John Sadler). It was just a matter of ‘Ride the race the way it comes up.’ She came out of there a little slow and I had to move her up to get position. But she was good (with it). The last time (Vanity, June 4, Santa Anita Park), she needed the race. 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. That’s hard. That’s not easy at all. But some luck and some skill got it done. I knew she was working well. Her works were excellent. So 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.”
GARY STEVENS (Beholder, second) – “She ran her race. You’ve got to give them (Stellar Wind connections) credit. She (Beholder) was comfortable up front. The fractions weren’t hard for her. At the three-furlong pole, I saw that shadow (Stellar Wind) and I knew we might have a race. My mare hit another gear at the three-sixteenth (pole), but she (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.”
JOE TALAMO (Divina Comedia, third) – “She ran great. I was riding hard, but I was watching what was going on up front. No shame for my mare to run third to those two.”
JOHN SADLER (Stellar Wind, winner) “You usually don’t get what you want on your birthday, but this year, I did. She’s been training well. She won here last year. And if you think about it, she probably was the best in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff -- I don’t think anybody would dispute that. She had a prep race (Vanity, June 4) 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. The difference was having a race and this one (1 1/16 miles) being a little longer. It’s good for her and she’s an improving, lightly-raced horse. We’re kind of following Beholder a little bit. She’s a lightly raced mare and we’d like to race her two more years. She’s not a horse to run every month, so we’ll probably run her in the Zenyatta and then the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.”
RICHARD MANDELLA (Beholder, second) – “It was a good race for my horse. That other mare ran a helluva race.”
FRACTIONS: :23.63 :47.38 1:10.70 1:34.88 1:41.24
The stakes win was the second of the meet for rider Espinoza (beating Stevens and Dortmund with California Chrome last Saturday) and his second in the Hirsch (Healthy Addiction in 2006, also trained by Sadler). He now has 88 stakes wins at Del Mar, eighth best of all riders.
The stakes win was the second of the meet for trainer Sadler and his third in the Hirsch. He now has 54 stakes wins at Del Mar, sixth best all time. Today is his 60th birthday.