It was the first meeting between the three-time Eclipse Award-winning mare Beholder and 3-year-old filly Eclipse winner Stellar Wind. Anticipation was high, but the results were as expected as Beholder beat her younger rival by 1 ½ lengths in the Vanity Mile at Santa Anita.
After the race, Victor Espinoza, Stellar Wind’s jockey, got off the horse and whispered to trainer John Sadler.
“I think we’re going to beat her next time,” Sadler said, his voice imitating Espinoza’s volume. “I didn’t tell anybody because when you’re going up against the champ you have to keep your cards close to the vest.”
Stellar Wind, a 4-year-old, has run against and beaten the 6-year-old both times since the Vanity — the Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar and the Zenyatta at Santa Anita.
Friday at the picturesque Arcadia track will be a race that horse racing aficionados are looking forward to even more than Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic with California Chrome, Arrogate and Frosted.
Not only are Stellar Wind and Beholder set to go the 1 1/8 miles as the marquee race on the first day of the two-day event, but there is a third entrant that might be the best of all. Songbird, a 3-year-old, is undefeated in 11 races and has never been challenged.
“I’ve studied these mares, a lot,” Sadler said with emphasis. “They are really close. The scenario that will surprise me is if someone wins easily.”
Studying is a strong suit for Sadler, but he’s smart enough to take advice.
Stellar Wind came to the veteran trainer after running two races at Laurel Park in late 2014. David Ingordo , a bloodstock agent who works for Lane’s End Farm, follows the progeny of the stallions that stood at the farm.
Curlin, sire of Stellar Wind, was one those stallions at the time.
“Stellar Wind ran a pretty impressive race [in Baltimore],” Ingordo said. “I was trying to get in touch with the trainer but with little luck. But Paula Cline in our office knew him and that was all I needed.”
Kosta and his brother Pete Hronis stable about 50 horses with Sadler. Their primary business, located in Delano in Kern County, is as a producer of table grapes.
“John handed me the PPs [past performances] and the first thing I saw was she was a Virginia bred,” Kosta Hronis aid. “Virginia bred, really, I said. I was a little taken aback. But knowing David’s expertise and having him on the team, when he feels good about something, we don’t question David.”
Then it was up to Ingordo to close the deal. It was private purchase and details are not public, although Ingordo said it was a “significant” amount of money. So far, Stellar Wind has earned $1.35 million in purses.
“I flew there [Baltimore] the next morning,” Ingordo said. “It was mid-December and it was freezing, 5 or 6 degrees. The filly was jumping around and feeling good. I got to see her train. … I bought her and the rest is beautiful history.”
Hronis was hooked on the filly immediately.
“[I knew we had something special] between when I saw the replay and then when she flew to California and I saw her work out,” Kosta said. “The way she floated over the track and her action. We got even better than advertised.”
Stellar Wind won her first race for Sadler (the Santa Ysabel, which was won this year by Songbird) and then took the Santa Anita Oaks. A bad post and a rough trip had her finish fourth in the Kentucky Oaks about a month later.
“We weren’t at all disappointed in the horse,” Sadler said.
From there a win in the Summer Oaks at Santa Anita and the Torrey Pines at Del Mar had her in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She finished an unlucky second.
“We didn’t want to face Beholder last year as a 3-year-old,” Sadler said. “She was just too young to go up against that older mare.”
Beholder was scheduled to run in the Classic last year, but illness forced her to scratch from the race.
“It’s a rare race that has this many champions of this quality,” Sadler said. “Circumstances don’t usually work out that you have the top 3-year-old, top 4-year-old and the top older mare. It’s like a lunar eclipse where the moon passes the sun. And they are all landing in top form.”
Sadler goes back to studying the race.
“”If you look at Beholder’s numbers, she really hasn’t dropped off,” Sadler said of speed figures. “But instead there is another horse coming up. They are so close. Maybe she’s come down a smidge, but we’re still ascending. And Songbird is terrific. She’s undefeated and a champion and she’s very, very, very good.”
If you’re looking for some clarity from the morning line, you won’t find it. Songbird is at 8-5, with Beholder and Stellar Wind at 5-2.