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ARCADIA, CA — It was a match race on paper, and Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Beholder Mile developed into one on the track when Victor Espinoza seized the initiative going into the Club House turn aboard favored Stellar Wind and prevailed by a neck in a desperate stretch duel with Vale Dori and jockey Rafael Bejarano.
After a pair of scratches reduced the field to three older mares, Vale Dori rocketed to the lead from her rail post position as expected. Finest City, the 2016 Eclipse Champion Female Sprinter, broke sharply and sat second heading to the first turn, but Espinoza would have none of it aboard Stellar Wind.
“Victor said Mike out-broke him a little bit and he didn’t want to let Vale Dori get away with an easy lead,” said John Sadler, Stellar Wind’s trainer. “She’s so tough. She doesn’t lose photos. This was closer than I thought it was going to be, but that other mare (Vale Dori) is really a top mare now.”
Owned by Hronis Racing, LLC, Stellar Wind got the mile in 1:36.14 and is now, at age five, unbeaten in two starts this year.
Voted the Eclipse Champion 3-year-old filly in 2015, Stellar Wind twice defeated the race’s namesake, four-time Eclipse Champ Beholder, last year.
“The other two broke in front of me, so I thought I could follow them” said Espinoza. “Mike took a hold of his horse going into the first turn, so I wanted to find an opening and just let her run. I let her go and just put her right next to Vale Dori. I had confidence in her. She’s always like that in the stretch.
“She won’t do much on her own. She’s amazing, she’s an incredible mare, but I have to do my job. She always wins by enough. I have to encourage her to go forward. She has so much power that it’s hard for any other horse to beat her when it comes to head and head down the lane.”
Fresh off of a victory in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 14, Stellar Wind notched her fifth Grade 1 victory and improved her overall mark to 14-9-2-1. With the winner’s check of $240,000, she increased her earnings to $2,053,200.
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“Our whole deal with bringing her back this year was if she was healthy and training well,” said co-owner Kosta Hronis. “She’s back. Victor’s early move here was the key to the race. This reminded me of running against Beholder. We’re really proud of her.”
In search of her seventh consecutive win, six of them graded stakes, Vale Dori was gallant in defeat and finished 4 3/4 lengths in front of Finest City, who was never a factor after Espinoza’s bold early move.
Fractions on the race were :24.12, :47.64, 1:11.36, and 1:23.44.
Off at 1-2, Stellar Wind paid $3 to win. There were no place or show bets.
Jockey Victor Espinoza, Stellar Wind: “I wanted to let them go, but they slowed down pretty good into the first turn. I thought, ‘We can’t do that.’ I didn’t want to send her too much, but I didn’t want to just sit with her.
“I was mostly focused on my own horse, making sure she was doing it nice and easy.”
Trainer John Sadler, Stellar Wind: “She’s been training great. She’s even stronger than she was last year at this point in the year, so we’re really excited. We were ready to go.
“We knew Victor would be aware. He was right on top of them and how fast were they going. It was his call.
“We respect everybody in here. This is a very good group. This is a really high-quality group.
“This might be a little short for her, a mile, now that she’s an older mare. She might be more comfortable at 1 1/16 miles, and is very comfortable at 1 1/8 miles. This was a little bit short, but she ran great.
“We’ll probably look at the Clement Hirsch (Grade 1, 1 1/16 miles on July 30) next at Del Mar, just like last year.”
Co-Owner Kosta Hronis, Stellar Wind: “She just ran lights out. We’re really proud of her.
“John has managed her great.”
Jockey Rafael Bejarano, Vale Dori: “I’m very happy with her race. We got beat by a great horse. My horse finished strong. When Victor moved like he did…It put the pressure on us.”
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