01/05/2017 5:20PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Stellar Wind

Emily Shields

Stellar Wind had much to live up to in 2016, with limited opportunities.

She got a late start to her campaign, raced just four times, but accomplished enough to be an Eclipse Award finalist as older dirt female, following a 2015 campaign in which she was named champion 3-year-old filly.

Stellar Wind’s 2016 campaign did not begin until June, which was part of a grand plan by trainer John Sadler and Hronis Racing, owned by brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis.

“We didn’t really mind the late start; it was kind of by design,” Sadler said. “We freshened her up with the idea of running her two [more] years. That was the plan all along – to run her at 4 and 5.”

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

Stellar Wind, the runner-up in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, had been off seven months when she jumped into the deep end June 4 at Santa Anita in the Grade 1 Vanity Mile. Her rival was none other than Beholder, who was 11 for 11 in Santa Anita routes.

The Vanity was an ideal prep race. Stellar Wind and Victor Espinoza raced inside, waited briefly, and closed the gap to miss by 1 1/2 lengths. Sadler was thrilled and looked forward to a rematch with Beholder.

“We thought we’d have a good chance to get her in the next one,” he said.

Stellar Wind shipped to Del Mar to prepare for the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch on July 30 and posted two super works over the track. Stellar Wind would improve in her second start back, but enough to upset Beholder? It was a tall order.

Her rival drew the rail, giving Stellar Wind a tactical edge from post 2. Sadler instructed Espinoza to keep the pressure on front-runner Beholder. It was a calculated risk because it was contrary to Stellar Wind’s normal style. She normally rallied from behind.

It was the right call. Stellar Wind hounded Beholder, engaged her on the far turn, and inched clear to win by a half-length.

But could Stellar Wind defeat Beholder again two months later at Santa Anita? It was another tall order.

Stellar Wind picked up four pounds to 125, the co-highweight with Beholder for the Grade 1 Zenyatta. The race unfolded similarly to Del Mar. Again, Stellar Wind applied pressure from the outside, engaged her rival into the far turn, and won by a neck.

The 110 Beyer Speed Figure was a career best for Stellar Wind and the fastest of 2016 by a filly or mare.

The final start of Stellar Wind’s campaign was the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Stellar Wind stood perfectly in the gate, except for the split second when the gates opened. She was off slowly, and that was the race. She finished fourth.

“You can’t do that against those mares,” Sadler said. He was asked if Stellar Wind could have defeated Beholder and Songbird with a clean break. “Let’s put it this way – it probably would have been a three-horse photo.”

Stellar Wind ended her four-start campaign with two wins, one second, $540,000 in earnings and plenty to look forward to in 2017.

Stellar Wind is in light training and expected to return March 18 in the Santa Margarita Stakes at Santa Anita, or April 14 in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Stellar Wind was sold twice at auction as a 2013 yearling – $40,000 at Saratoga and $86,000 at Keeneland to Barbara Houck. After a maiden win at Laurel in December 2014, Houck sold Stellar Wind to Hronis Racing for $450,000.

Stellar Wind, sired by Curlin and produced by the late Malibu Moon mare Evening Star, has won seven races and $1,453,200 from 12 starts.