He gushed about the honor of being able to run against the three-time champion in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch (gr. I), but showed no interest in ducking her on their home turf. The owner also made sure to stress one point.
"Don't get me wrong," Hronis said. "We like our horse."
Now everyone knows why.
The two champions were head-and-head from the five-sixteenths pole to the final strides July 30 in the Hirsch at Del Mar, but Stellar Wind outdueled her rival to the wire to win by a half-length, ending an eight-race win streak for Beholder. Watch Video
Beholder stumbled slightly at the start under jockey Gary Stevens, but was still able to secure the lead with relative ease breaking from the inside post and set fractions of :23.63, :47.38, and 1:10.70 through six furlongs. Stellar Wind and jockey Victor Espinoza raced about a half-length off of the front-runner in the backstretch, made her move in the final turn, and put a head in front at the top of the stretch, but Beholder was not done.
The 10-time grade I winner dug in on the inside and retook the lead inside the eighth pole but could not put her younger rival away.
"At the three-furlong pole, I saw that shadow and I knew we might have a race," Stevens said. "She hit another gear at the three-sixteenths pole, but (Stellar Wind) stayed right with us. I was surprised that she was staying with us. All credit to them. They were ready and they ran great."
The 4-year-old daughter of Curlin finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.24.
"The last time, she needed the race," Espinoza said. "This time she was ready. This was exciting. I knew I was riding against a Hall of Fame jockey on top of the best mare in the country. ... I had a lot of confidence in her today. When I came up alongside Gary, it was exciting.
"She's a special filly. She showed it today."
It was the first victory for Stellar Wind since the Torrey Pines (gr. III) at Del Mar last August. In between she ran hard-earned seconds in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I)—en route to champion 3-year-old filly honors—and to Beholder in the June 4 Vanity Mile (gr. I).
"You usually don't get what you want on your birthday, but this year, I did," said trainer John Sadler, who turned 60 Saturday. "She's been training well. And if you think about it, she probably was the best in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. ... She had a prep race that was a good race. Victor got off her and said 'You know, I think we can beat (Beholder) next time.'
"I kept my mouth shut, because I didn't want to look like an idiot, but we thought we had a chance."
Despite the loss, Beholder's trainer, Richard Mandella, was still happy with the 6-year-old Henny Hughes mare's effort.
"It was a good race for my horse," Mandella said. "That other mare ran a hell of a race."
"I was riding hard, but I was watching what was going on up front," said Divina Comedia's jockey, Joe Talamo. "No shame for my mare to run third to those two."
Off as the 9-2 second choice, behind Beholder at 1-9, Stellar Wind paid $11, $2.20, and $2.10 across the board. Beholder brought $2.10 to both place and show, and Divina Comedia delivered $2.60 to show. Del Mar and other wagering interests lost $195,174.12 on a negative show pool and $34,260.23 on a negative place pool.
Hronis said late Saturday night that Stellar Wind would point to the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park instead of opting to try males in the Pacific Classic (gr. I). He also said the Hirsch victory tops any other win for Hronis Racing to date.
Stellar Wind was purchased privately by Hronis after her maiden-breaking win at Laurel Park late in 2014. Bred in Virginia by Keswick Stables and Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, out of the Malibu Moon mare Evening Star, she has a 6-2-1 record from 10 starts, two grade I victories, and $1,173,200 in earnings.
"Both ran too good to lose," Hronis said of the Hirsch. "It was good for the industry and good for the sport. That's why we race."