ARCADIA, Calif. — Stellar Wind beat Vale Dori by a neck to win the $400,000 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita on Saturday.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Stellar Wind nudged in front nearing the finish line after dueling with pacesetter Vale Dori throughout the Grade 1 race.
Stellar Wind ran the mile in 1:36.14 and paid $3 to win as the 1-2 favorite. Finest City was another 4 3/4 lengths back in third. There was no place or show wagering because of the three-horse field.
Still, it was plenty dramatic.
Vale Dori broke from the rail and took off running, leaving Stellar Wind and jockey Rafael Bejarano in chase mode while Finest City brought up the rear most of the way under Hall of Famer Mike Smith. Vale Dori resisted when challenged by Stellar Wind approaching the top of the stretch before giving up the lead in mid-stretch and then fighting back inside only to get edged out in the closing strides.
“She has so much power that it’s hard for any other horse to beat her when it comes to head-and-head down the lane,” Espinoza said.
Stellar Wind challenged Vale Dori passing the quarter pole and Espinoza went to a left-handed whip. The 5-year-old chestnut mare gained a slim lead in mid-stretch when Espinoza switched to a right-handed whip and she held on while running outside of Vale Dori.
“I wasn’t worried. She’s always like that in the stretch. She won’t do much on her own,” Espinoza said. “I have to encourage her to go forward. She’s been like that from the first day I rode her.”
Trained by John Sadler, Stellar Wind was coming off a 1 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom in April, her only other start this year. She has nine wins in 14 career starts. The victory, worth $240,000, made her a millionaire, with earnings of $1,053,200.
“She’s so tough,” Sadler said. “This was closer than I thought it was going to be, but that other mare (Vale Dori) is really a top mare now.”
Vale Dori also reached six-figure career earnings of $1,053,200 while having her six-race winning streak snapped for trainer Bob Baffert. His other entry, Faithfully, was scratched, along with Show Stealer.
Vale Dori was running against two champions: Stellar Wind, the top 3-year-old filly in 2015, and Finest City, last year’s top female sprinter.
“We got beat by a great horse,” Bejarano said. “My horse finished strong. When Victor moved like he did it put the pressure on us.”
Finest City fell to 0-5 in two-turn races.
In the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile, Bal a Bali closed with a rush to win by three-quarters of a length.
Ridden by Smith, Bal a Bali ran the distance on turf in 1:32.22 and paid $8.20, $4.20 and $3 in the Grade 1 race.
Farhaan returned $3.80 and $2.80, while 5-2 favorite Heart to Heart was another nose back in third and paid $3 to show.
The victory earned Bal a Bali an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar on Nov. 4. The 7-year-old dark bay horse owned by Calumet Farm has won the Brazilian version of the Triple Crown and survived a bout with laminitis in his 25-race career.
“It’s very gratifying, but you expect him to win every time because he’s a great horse,” said Richard Mandella, who trains Bal a Bali. “He’s had a few things that didn’t materialize but with the setbacks that he’s had the industry needs to give him the credit due that he overcame it and came back to be such a good horse.”
Bal a Bali earned his second Grade 1 win of the year to go with his victory in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile over the same turf in March.
Free Rose finished fourth, followed by Gangster, Bolo and What a View.