07/31/2016 9:36AM

Watchmaker: Espinoza's ride put Stellar Wind in position to beat Beholder

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Emily Shields
Stellar Wind ran a superb race to win the Clement Hirsch Stakes.

Instead of agonizing over why Beholder was unable to win her ninth straight race Saturday in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, the proper thing to do is to give credit to Stellar Wind, who engineered this half-length upset. She richly deserves it.

Simply put, Stellar Wind ran demonstrably better than Beholder on Saturday. That doesn’t mean Stellar Wind is now demonstrably better than Beholder, because it will take more meetings between these two to prove that, and won’t we be lucky to witness these two terrific horses hash that out? But on this day, Stellar Wind was better, and here’s why:

Stellar Wind is a stalker/closer type performer. Beholder has much more positional speed. Beholder held an enormous pace advantage in the Hirsch on paper, and to let that advantage play out in the actual running would have been tantamount to conceding the race.

With that in mind, much credit goes to Stellar Wind’s connections and especially her jockey, Victor Espinoza, for taking Stellar Wind out of the comfort zone of her established running style, and not just allowing Beholder her giant paper tactical advantage. Espinoza hustled Stellar Wind out of the gate, niggled on her down the backstretch, and hard-sent her midway on the far turn, all just to stay on Beholder’s flank and apply as much pressure as they could. And all the while, Beholder was running as easy as you please, setting fractions that were completely unremarkable.

Stellar Wind ran hard every step of the Hirsch’s 1 1/16 miles, so it speaks volumes to her quality that she was still able to prevail. Then again, her Hirsch win was, as upsets of 1-10 shots go, more a surprise, and not as severe as a shock. It was a surprise only because few went on record beforehand predicting this outcome. But it was not a shock, for while Beholder is a three-time champion, Stellar Wind, last year’s Eclipse Award winning 3-year-old filly, is a champion, too.

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As for Beholder, Saturday’s effort was not her best race, and we are reminded yet again that these horses we watch and bet on are not machines. But in no way do I subscribe to the theory that is floating around out there that the outcome of the Hirsch was an indication that Beholder has suddenly slipped past her prime, and is, at age 6, now looking up at Stellar Wind. Not nearly yet, anyway.

After all, it was only weeks ago when Beholder toyed with Stellar Wind in the Vanity. For all she has accomplished, Beholder has certainly earned the right for opportunities (yes, plural; she has earned that) to make amends, something else champions have an uncanny knack of doing.

Quick notes:

◗ The level of gamesmanship amongst the three jockeys who opposed Flintshire in Saturday’s Bowling Green Stakes at Saratoga was off the charts. Their attempts to bottle up, box in, and generally make life as miserable as possible for the 1-10 Flintshire were blatantly obvious, not unexpected, and ultimately unsuccessful. The three horses who opposed Flintshire – Grand Tito, Twilight Eclipse, and Can’thelpbelieving - just weren’t even remotely good enough to execute this strategy, and hope to capitalize.

Flintshire, as his odds suggest, was supposed to win the Bowling Green, which was merely a bridge to Saratoga’s Sword Dancer on Aug. 27. Ironically, if Flintshire had a smooth trip in the Bowling Green and won by six, it wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive as it was when he overcame his eventful journey with such aplomb.

◗ I don’t have positive things to say about the Jim Dandy. Laoban, who couldn’t capitalize on as strong a rail bias as you will ever see in the Gotham last March, got his maiden win in the Jim Dandy. This result does not speak flatteringly of Destin, who finished third after a perfect trip stalking Laoban’s slow pace, or of Mohaymen, who did stumble at the start but did little running thereafter and finished fourth, or Creator, who was compromised by the slow pace but who also never got out of sixth and last.

I mean, with the way the Jim Dandy played out, Destin was really, really supposed to win.

◗ A. P. Indian is in raging form right now, and his victory in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt confirms he is currently the top active sprinter in the East.

◗ Right after his most impressive (and heavily bet) maiden romp earlier on Saturday’s Saratoga card, I called Theory the most impressive 2-year-old debut winner I’ve seen in New York so far this year. Well, after sleeping on it, I have to amend my statement. Theory, by Gemologist and trained by Todd Pletcher, is the best 2-year-old I’ve seen in New York so far this year, period.