07/31/2016 9:36AM

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

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.


Todd Elliot More than 1 year ago
They checked Stevens birthday and found out he is 77 years old and has been using botox for years and falsified his birthday for years.
Scott Scheib More than 1 year ago
i wonder if anyone is noticing that Stevens simply is not the same since his return/knee replacement.  I have noticed that he does not quite finish like a younger, stronger rider.
i am not blaming as Beholder is a great horse, but she will only do what is asked of her and Gary seemed like he quit a bit at the end.
Ronald Dodgen More than 1 year ago
Nothing like a extended 4 furlong battle neck and neck.
realgooddogtoo More than 1 year ago
I totally agree with you Mike , because if Espinoza didn't go after Beholder early , it would be over by the 3/8 pole and Beholder win by many. You can't let a good horse make the lead to easy and expected to beat it at the wire. Another thing is people keeping blaming  on Stevens for not using the stick more aggressive, they don't know that most fillies especially the good ones you can only hit them once or twice for the best response. That wasn't her best day , they are not machine, I wish more people know that.
RacetrackFan More than 1 year ago
did you watch Gary Stevens, motionless on beholder in his loss?
MortimerPost More than 1 year ago
Yes, and it was DISGRACEFUL!
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
East coast based runners, including three-year old colts, continue to unimpress. Hopefully the track today at Monmouth dries up; otherwise, another sloppy affair, possibly affecting at least a few running today that may or may not take to the off-track.
WilliamSLaForge More than 1 year ago
Victor hit Stellar Wind 12 times in the stretch.  I did not see Gary encourage Beholder with the "riding crop" once, just a little waving and use of reigns. Why?  Are Beholder's connections not wanting to ride Beholder to hard three weeks out from 1 million grade 1 Pacific Classic, does she not respond at all to the "riding crop"?  12 times vs. zero.  No one is exploring that issue.  By the way, Victor E. should be fined for excessive use of the "riding crop"  hitting a horse more then three times in succession (without considering if the horse is not responding or has already responded anyway with no need for hits 4,5,6,7) (it's a good rule) is against California Horse Racing Board rules. If the connections of both horses were all out to win the race within the rules it would have been a good race.   
Richard Glassman More than 1 year ago
William, why would Gary Stevens whip a horse that really never needed to be whipped before ? Whipping a horse doesnt always make a horse run better and actually it sometimes makes a horse shy away and not run straight. Every horse will have a race where it just wasn't her day and that day got beat by a better horse. I still believe Beholder is better but her health and safety come way before trying something knew like whipping her. Horses that get whipped usually respond better in deep stretch but not all horses do.

Chuck Seeger More than 1 year ago
You can argue the whipping issue forever, but you cannot deny the lack of effort put forth by Old Man Stevens.  I think he was out of gas before Beholder was.  What right thinking owner would actually put this old, washed up, has been on a champion horse, knowing the horse is on the back end of her career, and may need some help from a strong, in shape youthful jockey?  Sheer logic and visual evidence continues to show that Stevens can no longer hold up in a stretch dual, regardless of who he is riding.  But like so many other boneheaded athletics, he doesn't know when to call it quits.  So I'll do it for him - Gary end the nonsense.  In the immortal words of Richard Crenna in Rambo, "It's over Johnny".
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Now who was the american stabled horse that beat flintshire ?   Main sequence who had the best year any american turf horse ever had.  Its too bad the media cant recognize a great horse when its right in front of them.   
If beholder cant put away horses with her big move in the second turn....maybe she shouldnt be on the lead ?   
Jack Wolferseder More than 1 year ago
Stevens never switched stick hands and only hit her 2x in deep stretch and not with much power.  More to give the impression that he was "trying".  Victor was "all over"  his filly.  Bad optic and no one is exploring this issue.....Mandella instructions, Stevens own initiative,  at 1/9 the public deserves an explanation.
MortimerPost More than 1 year ago
AGREED!  Stevens' passive ride was exceedingly passive and was probably the major cause of Beholder's loss--unless Beholder has really gone downhill.  She had NO kick in the stretch, and seemed a shadow of her 2015 Pacific Classic self.
Thomas More than 1 year ago
Please MW, stop making excuses for Beholder, Stevens,  and Mandella and admit what they did is the reason horse racing seems crooked and fixed and continues to lose betting dollars every month.   Bettors don't trust the product.   Stevens and Mandella were out for an easy workout,  trying to keep a fragile horse fit and healthy for their main goal,  the million dollar Pacific Classic so Stevens kept Beholder on a tight reign and never tried to battle when Stellar Wind challenged,  sure he put on show to sell it, but he clearly didn't want to use all of Beholder's energy with the Classic coming up.  Jockeys and trainers do this all the time and the bettor is the one hurt, so they are taking their dollars to a game more ethical than horse racing,  jai alai. Please address this epidemic and you'll fix horse racing.  The money in the casino purses has made jockeys and trainers fix races by not trying or with poorer trainers and jockeys at smaller tracks just making odds better or claiming prices higher for next time so they can cash in. This is why horse racing is losing dollars,  the product cannot be trusted and Beholder just showed why. 
Richard Glassman More than 1 year ago
Thomas, didn't ever see a race where whipping a horse made the horse lose because it moved sideways away from the whip where if the jockey didn't use it she might of won. So, it works sometimes but not always.