The budding rivalry between two of the grittiest females in the country saw a repeat performance July 30 in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar.
Just like their last matchup in the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita Park June 3, Hronis Racing's Stellar Wind never let Vale Dori (ARG) get more than a length away early, pulled alongside the frontrunner in the final turn, and just outfinished her rival to win by a neck.
The John Sadler-trained daughter of Curlin earned her sixth grade 1 win and second straight Hirsch victory when she stopped the clock in 1:43.92 for 1 1/16 miles.
"Just what I wanted for my birthday," said the 61-year-old Sadler, who earned his 57th stakes win at Del Mar Sunday. "She ran really well. I was nervous because of the way favorites have fared here, but she's a good mare. She came through and she stuck her nose out at the end like she usually does.
"It looked like it was going to set up pretty much like the last race. Vale Dori was the speed. We know we can't sit off her too far. You've got to hook into her and wear her down."
Jockey Victor Espinoza, who has mastered the pressing, outside trip—including Stellar Wind's upset win victory over the Beholder in last year's Hirsch—said he was confident as soon as his mare broke well from post 3, just outside Vale Dori in post 2.
"Once she broke I felt the race was all over," the rider said. "I have so much confidence in her. I knew she'd win and she showed me to be right again. I had (Vale Dori) measured. I knew I could win it. It was a good race—side by side down the stretch—but I was going to be the winner."
The Bob Baffert-trained Vale Dori set fractions of :23.81, :48.46, and 1:13.39 through six furlongs, and even after losing the lead, battled on to the wire on the inside.
"She ran great," said Vale Dori's jockey, Mike Smith. "She won. She just didn't finish first. She really tried today and I'm proud of her."
"No excuses," said Faithfully's jockey, Rafael Bejarano. "Those two in front of us are good."
Stellar Wind now has 10 wins from 15 starts and more than $2.3 million in earnings. The Virginia-bred, out of the Malibu Moon mare Evening Star, was bred by Keswick Stables & Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings.
Sadler said after the race that he hasn't picked out Stellar Wind's next start, but if she follows her 2016 path, the 5-year-old will run in the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita—in which she defeated champion Beholder for a second time last season—as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) back at Del Mar, where she is undefeated in three starts.