If trainer John Sadler and owners Kosta and Pete Hronis end up in the winner’s circle after Friday’s running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the feeling will not be one of just pure joy. There probably will be moments of reflection knowing that their mare Stellar Wind had run her last race.
Stellar Wind, at 5 years old, has been one of the great fillies and mares in her four-year racing career. She has one Eclipse Award as 3-year-old filly and another one on the way if she finishes first in the 1 1/8-mile race.
She’s won 10 of 15 races, including six Grade 1s. She’s three for three this year and has never lost at Del Mar. But, some might say she’s Phil Mickelson in the Tiger Woods era. Great, but there were others.
“I think she came along in a really good era,” Sadler said. “There are really some outstanding fillies running at the same time like Songbird, who was undefeated. And Beholder was a fan favorite because she ran so many great races for so many years in Southern California.
“But I think Stellar, in the industry, is thought of in really high regard, from people who follow that stuff closely and know that she’s right up there with them.”
Stellar Wind did beat Beholder twice, but raced Songbird only once.
Last year’s Distaff probably will go down as the best ever. It was supposed to be a three-horse race between Songbird, Beholder and Stellar Wind. What resulted was one of the most stirring stretch duels between Beholder and Songbird, with Beholder winning by a nostril. Stellar Wind was fourth.
Beholder retired after that race and Songbird was retired this year because of injury. The stage belongs totally to Stellar Wind.
Sadler is quick to reference that the mare is unbeaten in three races at Del Mar but then dismisses the advantage.
“There may not be a huge home-course advantage because great horses break the rules,” Sadler said. “They can win on any surface and from any post.
“So when you have all these great horses, it’s hard to say there’s a home-course advantage. If there’s a little one we’ll take it.”
Those wins came twice in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes and once in the Torrey Pines Stakes in 2015.
Jockey Victor Espinoza has been aboard her in all but her first races in Maryland.
“She’s been the queen of the barn — and suddenly one day she’s gone,” Espinoza said. “That’s hard for John and the team. It’ll definitely be a different atmosphere without Stellar Wind there.”
Sadler probably will miss seeing her on a daily basis the most.
“It’s going to be like losing a family member for me,” Sadler said. “She’s going to go Sunday to Kentucky. And she goes to the [Keeneland November breeding stock] sale on Tuesday. So it’s going to be kind of melancholy.
“We know she’s going to go on to the next stage. She’ll probably meet some of the great stallions in the world, so we’re excited for her at the same time.”
Hronis Racing does some breeding but didn’t think they could do this mare justice with the highest quality stallions.
“She deserves to be with the best,” Kosta Hronis said. “We love our girl.”
Stellar Wind has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Elate, coming from New York for Bill Mott, is 3-1 after two Grade 1 wins and a second. Abel Tasman, for Bob Baffert and winner of the Kentucky Oaks, is 4-1. Paradise Woods, the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks before faltering after a speed duel, is at 9-2.
Hronis is happy Stellar Wind has stayed healthy through her career.
“[When she leaves the track] I’m going to be happy and honored that we were part of her career and she’s as healthy walking off the track as on it,” Hronis said.
“You can’t give enough credit to John, who not only has trained her but also managed her career. It would easy for someone to over-race her because of her talents. But he backed off and I’m sure that gave her another year.”
Whatever the outcome of Friday’s race, Sadler will look into the same soon-to-be-empty stall she had for three years at Del Mar. And he’ll remember.
“My favorite memory of her is her honesty,” Sadler said. “She’s never run a bad race. Anyone who’s ever followed her career, the few times she has been beat, she’s run a good effort. … Nothing but a pleasure the whole time.”
Now the question is if the last time will be her best time.