Stellar Wind To Face Vale Dori In Saturday’s Grade I Beholder Mile At Santa Anita

The $400,000 Beholder Mile Stakes (G1) lost some of its luster when Songbird‘s connections decided to send the two-time Eclipse Award winner to Belmont Park for the June 10 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1), but the short field entered for the June 3 race at Santa Anita Park still features a showdown of champions and another with similar aspirations.

Bob Baffert, who will challenge three-time grade 1 winner Stellar Wind in the Beholder Mile with Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum’s Vale Dori, set the stage pretty well.

Hronis Racing’s Stellar Wind and jockey Victor Espinoza, outside, outleg Beholder (GaryStevens), inside, to win the Grade I, $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes, Saturday, October 1, 2016 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.

“We’ve aimed for this race like it was our Breeders’ Cup,” the Hall of  Fame trainer said of the 5-year-old Asiatic Boy mare who has won her last six races, including five graded stakes. “For a while the older female division here has been dominated by such good horses. We had to deal with Zenyatta for two or three years, then Beholder—but this is something different.”

Vale Dori’s last loss came behind Stellar Wind in the 2016 Zenyatta Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, when Stellar Wind edged Beholder by a neck and Vale Dori finished another 11 3/4 lengths back in third.

BALAN: Stellar Wind Edges Beholder Again in Zenyatta

“The last time we hooked her, we ran a bad third, but she’s coming off all those wins,” Baffert said of Vale Dori’s victories in the Bayakoa (G2), La Canada (G2), Santa Maria (G2), Santa Margarita (G1), and last time out in the Adoration (G3). “She’s training well and confidence is not going to be an issue. The only way we’re going to find out is by racing.”

BALAN: Vale Dori Holds Off Skye Diamonds in Adoration

The confluence of the mares’ respective campaigns may be the most compelling aspect of the Beholder Mile. Vale Dori is already on a roll, but Hronis Racing’s Stellar Wind just got started, and did so impressively at Oaklawn Park April 14.

After unsuccessful tries shipping outside of California for the 2015 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), the daughter of Curlin   stalked and pounced to win the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn off a five-month layoff. She was further flattered when the Apple Blossom runner-up, Terra Promessa, crushed the Allaire DuPont Distaff (G3) field by 7 1/2 lengths May 19 at Pimlico Race Course.

BALAN: Stellar Wind Sweeps By to Take Apple Blossom

Last year Stellar Wind returned off a freshening to run second to Beholder in what is now called the Beholder Mile (then called the Vanity Mile). Trainer John Sadler never wants to give the impression that one of his horses isn’t ready to race off a layoff, but he has reason to think Stellar Wind should take a step forward again. Off her Vanity run, Stellar Wind came back to beat Beholder in her next two starts—the Clement L. Hirsch (G1) and Zenyatta.

Stellar Wind and Victor Espinoza, left, hold off Beholder and Gary Stevens to win the Grade I $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA. Vale Dori was third.
©Benoit Photo

“Knowing we were going to run at Oaklawn in a grade 1, we didn’t want to be short,” Sadler said. “I’m not saying she was short for the first one, but she should jump forward off that, off a natural progression—she had a race, she had her time.”

Sadler always expressed confidence in Stellar Wind during her 4-year-old season—not only because she was the champion 3-year-old filly of 2015, but because he also observed the physical change in her from 3 to 4. Her physical development from 4 to 5 isn’t as striking, but the trainer still feels she’s stronger than she was last season.

“We took her to the paddock this morning. She looks great,” Sadler said. “If you have a good older horse with talent like her—the progression from 4 to 5 isn’t as well known as from 3 to 4—but just being that solid racehorse with another year of maturity, she’s a little stronger at 5 than she was at 4.”

While Stellar Wind and Vale Dori bring undisputed two-turn credentials, Seltzer Thoroughbreds’ Finest City still has plenty to prove in that arena. The champion female sprinter of 2016 is winless in four starts around two turns—two on dirt and two on turf—and like Vale Dori has a far-back third behind Beholder and Stellar Wind on her record from last year’s Vanity.

The City Zip   mare also is coming into the Beholder Mile with just one workout following her tight second-place finish in the May 6 Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs. Ian Kruljac likes to give Finest City ample time between races, so the quick turnaround is a bit out of character, but the young trainer said May 31 that she has come back from Kentucky with good energy and good weight.

“I think she’s going to be pretty fresh,” Kruljac said. “She put the weight back on pretty quick after shipping and she’s telling us (she’s ready to race).

“It’s her last hurrah at Santa Anita,” Kruljac added, referencing the upcoming summer meet at Del Mar and this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which will also be held at the seaside racetrack. “This all fits into our plan for November.”

Although Kruljac admits a one-turn mile would suit Finest City better—her best performances have been at seven furlongs, including the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1)—he thinks a cutback in distance should help his mare. At 1 1/8 miles March 18 in the Santa Margarita, Finest City challenged Vale Dori, but ultimately came up 1 1/2 lengths short.

BALAN: Vale Dori Holds Off Finest City in Santa Margarita

“At a mile, she is a fit,” Kruljac said. “Finest City is a fighter, and a mile is right in her wheelhouse.”

Outside of the three headliners, the remaining two Beholder Mile entrants will be significant longshots.

Faithfully is Baffert’s second entry, following a second-place finish in her 4-year-old debut April 14 at Santa Anita. The Smart Strike filly broke her maiden going 1 1/16 miles in March of 2016 at Santa Anita and her second victory from seven starts was a conditional allowance at Churchill Downs in June 2016.

George Krikorian’s Show Stealer may be a graded winner if not for Vale Dori, who she finished second to in the Santa Maria and La Canada. The Art Sherman-trained filly’s last start, however, was not as encouraging. In the Santa Margarita she came in last of eight, 29 3/4 lengths behind Vale Dori.

Beholder Mile S. (G1)

Santa Anita Park, Saturday, June 03, 2017, Race 8
  • 1m
  • Dirt
  • $400,000
  • 3 yo’s & up Fillies and Mares
  • 4:30 PM (local)
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 Vale Dori (ARG) Rafael Bejarano 126 Bob Baffert
2 Stellar Wind (VA) Victor Espinoza 126 John W. Sadler
3 Show Stealer (KY) Gary L. Stevens 122 Art Sherman
4 Finest City (PA)Keeneland Sales Graduate Mike E. Smith 122 Ian Kruljac
5 Faithfully (KY)Keeneland Sales Graduate Flavien Prat 122 Bob Baffert