HOT SPRINGS, AR – Making her first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last November, Hronis Racing, LLC’s Stellar Wind returned in fine fashion to win the Grade 1, $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap.
“I think she’s better than before,” said winning rider Victor Espinoza. “I always believed in her. As she’s gotten older, she’s more mature, more professional. But it seems like this year, she’s coming back great, and maybe even a little better than last year.”
Sent away as the heavy 2-5 favorite, Stellar Wind sat inside off the pace set by four-time Oaklawn stakes winner Terra Promessa and jockey Jose Ortiz. Terra Promessa led the field through soft early fractions of 23.88, :48.22, and 1:12.59. Stellar Wind made a three-wide move in the far turn to catch the leader and they hit the stretch stride-for-stride before Stellar Wind emerged victorious by 1 1/4 lengths.
“I was happy she had an eye on that 1 horse,” said trainer John Sadler. “I didn’t want that horse to get too easy a lead. So he was stalking her from the inside, then he came to the outside. I knew as long as Victor had an eye on the 1 horse, we’d be in good shape. She’s got a nice kick and a lot of ability to go the distance.”
The top two finishers are both daughters of Curlin, who was campaigned by Barbara Banke, Terra Promessa’s owner and Stellar Wind’s co-breeder.
“Barbara Banke came up to the table and said, ‘I hope it’s a Curlin exacta,'” said Sadler. “I said, ‘Me, too.’ Just thinking with a different Curlin.”
Stellar Wind, who was voted champion 3-year-old filly in 2015, Wind improved her record to eight wins from 14 starts and has now earned $1,813,200. She completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42 3/5 over a fast track.
Terra Promessa returned in good form after she suffered her first defeat in six races at Oaklawn last out in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes.
“As bad as the Azeri went, I think she rebounded from that,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “No aftereffects from the trip in the Azeri and she ran her race today. She got beat by arguably the best mare in the country, and she’ll go to Churchill Downs from here. And if we think she needs a little time, (owner) Stonestreet, the farm where she spent a lot of time at, is right there. But she ran a very good race today to be second to a champion.”
Streamline, the winner of the Azeri, was third, followed by Tiger Moth, Divine Elegance, and Durango.
Stellar Wind returned $2.80, $2.20, and $2.10. Terra Promessa brought back $2.80 and $2.20, while Streamline paid $2.20 to show.
Apple Blossom Quotes
Victor Espinoza (jockey, winner Stellar Wind) – On wearing the blanket of white and hot-pink carnations, which he said weighed 200 pounds: “Listen, when I win, nothing is heavy. I mean, these weigh more than me. But now that I win with Stellar Wind, I feel like they are light.”
“It was great. I thought it was good when she broke out of there great. Then in the first turn, I thought my trip was not so good because I got stuck in behind the leaders on the inside. I think, OK, if the outside horse doesn’t get tired at the end, I might have some trouble. But it worked out well. Because the other one couldn’t keep up with the leader. I had a little time to move out and just move forward to attack the one on the lead.”
“I really do want her to run in the Breeders’ Cup and get her a win. She’s had a little bit of bad luck the last two times. The first time, she got carried a little wide and I just got beat at Keeneland. Last time, she missed the break and that was it. The race was over for her. Hopefully this will be her year.”
Trainer John Sadler, Stellar Wind – “There’s plenty of reservations, always with good horses, that you’re doing the right thing (bringing them for another season). After her 3-year-old year, we talked about going two more years. She’s a late-maturing filly, and we thought she had a chance to be her best at 4 and 5. Kosta said last year, ‘If you think she’s going to be good, we don’t want to stop on her.’ She came out of the Breeders’ Cup in good shape, gave her a little rest, and got her back here.”
“We’ll get her home and look at the races around the country. We’d like to run once at (Santa Anita). It’s her home base. Probably run in the Beholder (Stakes, formerly named the Vanity and now named for the multiple champion that Stellar Wind beat twice and lost to twice last year).”
Owner Kosta Hronis, Stellar Wind – “She wanted another year under her belt, she wanted to race. She’s in great shape, so we thought we’d keep her on the track at least another year. We’re happy with her comeback race. Just really proud of her.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen, Terra Promessa – “She ran a good race. I mean, she really did. Hats off to a champion who beat her, but Terra Promessa definitely ran a good race. A nice Curlin exacta.
Jockey Jose Ortiz, Terra Promessa – “I think she ran great. She broke great and ran the half in: 481 which was perfect I think. When I asked her to go, she gave me a great turn of foot. The other filly did so well too. We went head to head and she beat me today, but my filly gave a great effort.”
Trainer Brian Williamson, Streamline – “She ran good, we were just third best. It isn’t any shame to get beat by those two, I’m going to tell you that. That’s all we can ask for. Looked like she pulled up good.”
Jockey Chris Landeros, Streamline – “She ran good, no excuses. I would have stayed with Terra Promessa (if I could do something differently).”