01/06/2016 11:53AM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Stellar Wind

Benoit and Associates

Purchased privately after a maiden win at Laurel Park late in 2014, Stellar Wind left a bone-chilling Maryland winter behind and arrived at John Sadler’s sun-splashed Santa Anita barn to embark upon what would turn out to be, well, a stellar 3-year-old season.

The daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin showed her new connections enough in the mornings to go right into a graded stakes for her first start against winners, and her first going two turns. Despite breaking slowly and finding herself next-to-last early, Stellar Wind rallied wide and drew off in the stretch to take the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel by nearly three lengths.

“Curlins are going to be better around two turns,” Sadler said. “I projected her as a 3-year-old filly that could run a distance. That has a lot of value.”

Stellar Wind’s value skyrocketed a few weeks later when she again broke a bit tardily to wind up last through the opening stages, but swept past her rivals on the outside to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks under confident handling from fellow Eclipse Award finalist Victor Espinoza.

:: 2015 Eclipse Awards: Finalist profiles

“I’ve been coming to this track my whole life,” owner Kosta Hronis recalled after Stellar Wind had reported home in front by more than five lengths. “Once we saw she was going to win the race, I just stood up and I was in awe that we could be a part of it.”

On the strength of that performance, Stellar Wind was made the favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. After breaking slowly once again and being forced to go extremely wide, she rallied to finish fourth.

“You don’t see ‘nine wide’ in a chart very often,” noted Sadler. “She still was gaining, and it wasn’t a bad race.” Given a freshening after the Kentucky Oaks, Stellar Wind had to call on all her class in the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks on June 20 at Santa Anita, and she prevailed in a photo finish, despite giving weight to her opponents and racing wide throughout.

Stellar Wind would have only two more races the rest of the year, winning the Torrey Pines in a runaway at Del Mar in August and finishing an unlucky second in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff after bumping with eventual winner Stopchargingmaria coming out of the final turn.

“For a moment, I thought I was going to go by,” said Espinoza, who claimed foul to no avail. “It cost me the race when [Stopchargingmaria] moved out and I checked her. But you know what? She ran great and I’m proud of her.” With the Breeders’ Cup returning to Santa Anita in 2016, Stellar Wind should enjoy a home-court advantage as she is unbeaten from three starts at The Great Race Place.

“Her campaign was designed not to be overly aggressive, for the mere fact I think she can be better at 4,” Sadler explained. “And I like that we have the Breeders’ Cup back.”