Stellar Wind has not been blessed with the best of luck in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Twice she tried, and twice she was denied. In 2015 as the runner-up at Keeneland, she was bumped and carried out by the narrow winner Stopchargingmaria. Last year, she missed the break and could only manage a fourth-place finish behind the likes of Beholder and Songbird. Unfortunate results in the World Championships aside, Stellar Wind has proven to be a special kind of racehorse.
Friday's win in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap was further proof of that, as the classy five-year-old daughter of Curlin returned from the sidelines in a big way. Giving away weight and smoothly putting away a nice mare who had everything her own way, Stellar Wind cruised to the Oaklawn Park wire 1 ¼ lengths the best over the local star, Terra Promessa. Owned by Hronis Racing, and trained by John Sadler, Stellar Wind is one of the least talked about superstars in racing. Already with one Eclipse Award on the mantle, the Virginia-bred mare is class through and through. In the beginning of her fourth season on the track, she has compiled a stellar record of 13-8-2-1, with lifetime earnings of $1,813,200. The scary thing for her competition is that the best may still be on the horizon for the beautiful chestnut with the big white blaze.
Victor Espinoza has ridden more than his share of good horses in the last few years, and was very complimentary of the 2015 Champion 3yo Filly. “I think she’s better than before," said Espinoza after the Apple Blossom win. "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." Better than last year would be awfully good. Stellar Wind only faced the starter four times last year, and from a competition standpoint, it couldn't get any tougher than she had it in 2016. She was matched-up with Beholder each time, and held her own.
After running second to the four-time champion in the Grade 1 Vanity Mile, while making her seasonal debut, Stellar Wind rebounded with back-to-back Grade 1 victories in the Clement L. Hirsch and the Zenyatta Stakes. In both of them, at two different tracks, she looked the great Beholder in the eye, and managed to get the best of her rival. You already know how her final start of the year ended in disappointment, but those two wins over Beholder were proof positive of her class. Now, in 2017, she is back for what has the potential to be a very big season.
“There’s plenty of reservations, always with good horses, that you’re doing the right thing (bringing them for another season)," said Sadler. "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 [Hronis] 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.”
Her run in the Apple Blossom looks to be the ideal beginning to what will likely be her final season. It portends of big things on her path to a third attempt in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which will be held this year at Del Mar. First things first, though. The return was excellent, and it should set her up perfectly for a potential clash of champions back out in California.
Next should come a second chance in the Vanity Mile (now called Beholder Mile), and unlike last year in a meeting of champions, Stellar Wind will be the one who already has a race under her belt. If indeed Songbird and Stellar Wind face off at Santa Anita Park on June 3, it will be one of the more anticipated showdowns of the first half of the 2017 racing season, and while Songbird will likely go favored, don't count out Stellar Wind, for this promises to be her biggest year yet.