07/30/2016 8:45PM

Stellar Wind knocks off Beholder in Clement Hirsch

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Emily Shields
Stellar Wind, ridden by Victor Espinoza, gives trainer John Sadler a perfect 60th birthday present with a half-length win over Beholder in the Clement Hirsch Stakes.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Usually the ocean breeze off the nearby Pacific is quite calm, but on Saturday at Del Mar a mighty wind blew in and re-arranged the pre-conceived order of the older female division. In a battle of two Eclipse Award winners, Stellar Wind outbattled the great Beholder by a half-length in the Grade 1, $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes, the championship race of the meet for older fillies and mares.

 There were five in the race, but it was a match race on paper and it played out that way on the track. Beholder bobbled a bit leaving the gate but quickly shot to the front, while Stellar Wind stalked her from the outside. They set sensible fractions, were on even terms moving around the final turn, but through the lane Stellar Wind gradually got the best of Beholder, for a victory trainer John Sadler called “really satisfying.”

 And no wonder. Sadler turned 60 on Saturday, and had spent a week having people in the stable area wonder why he was bothering even running against Beholder.

 “Usually you don’t get what you want on your birthday, but today I did, my birthday wish,” Sadler said.

 Victor Espinoza gave Stellar Wind an impeccable ride. He shadowed Gary Stevens and Beholder the first half-mile in 47.38 seconds, engaged Beholder going around the final turn, and proved best. It was the second straight Saturday here that Espinoza outfinished Stevens in a thriller. Last week it was California Chrome over Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap.

 “No excuse,” Stevens said. “I set a comfortable pace, had horse when we started to run at the three-eighths, still thought I had her at the three-sixteenths, but [Espinoza] hung right with me. Full credit to them.”

 This was the first loss for Beholder since June 2014, when she was fourth in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. She had won eight straight since then, upping her Eclipse Award haul to three. She now has 17 wins and four seconds in 23 starts.

 Beholder, sent off at 1-10, finished 9 3/4 lengths clear of third-place Divina Comedia. Off the Road was fourth and The Dream last in the field of five.

 Stellar Wind covered 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:41.24.

 Stellar Wind ($11), the second choice, had finished second by 1 1/2 lengths to Beholder in the Grade 1 Vanity Mile at Santa Anita on June 4, after which Sadler said Espinoza told him he “thought we’d get her next time.”

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 The Vanity was the second start of the year for Beholder, and the first for Stellar Wind. In both races, Beholder gave Stellar Wind two pounds, 123-121.

 “A mile was a little short for her, and she had trained forwardly since,” Sadler said. “I thought she’d run really well. She had a race. This was longer. She’s lightly raced.”

 Stellar Wind, a daughter of Curlin, was making just her 10th start. She has won six times, including her lone prior start at Del Mar, last summer’s Grade 3 Torrey Pines. Her only prior Grade 1 win came in last year’s Santa Anita Oaks.

 Stellar Wind was last year’s champion 3-year-old filly. She ended her campaign with a second-place finish behind the older Stopchargingmaria in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland. Sadler said the 2016 campaign was designed by he and owners Kosta and Pete Hronis to get Stellar Wind to this year’s Distaff, at Santa Anita – where Sadler is based – hence the reason for giving her most of the first half of the year off.

 “The plan was to back up from the Breeders’ Cup, to have three or four races before the Breeders’ Cup,” Sadler said. “She’ll run in the Zenyatta and then the Breeders’ Cup Distaff,” he said, referring to races at the fall meeting at Santa Anita.

 Stellar Wind is assured of a berth in the Distaff, as the Hirsch is a Win and You’re In race.

Sadler expects Stellar Wind to continue to improve, and says the plan is for her to stay on the track for two more years, following in the footsteps of Beholder. She showed on Saturday, though, that she has already caught up.