Stellar Wind: Curlin’s first champion

Curlin, himself a two-time Horse of the Year, has sired his first champion.

At last night’s Eclipse Awards, Stellar Wind (Evening Star, by Malibu Moon) was named the Champion Three-Year-Old filly of 2015.

Stellar Wind deserved it.  She stayed in strong form all year long, and even in the races she did not win, she still turned in strong efforts against classy horses.

Though there were no headlines in Blood-Horse about her then, there is evidence that people saw something in Stellar Wind early.  As a yearling, she went through the sales ring twice: once for $40,000 at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga, and then again for $86,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic.  That second sale was to Barbara J. Houck, who owned Stellar Wind for her first two career starts for trainer Donald Barr.

The Virginia-bred made those first two starts at Laurel.  On November 20 of last year, her debut, she closed to finish third beaten three quarters of a length behind next-out stakes winner Spotted Heart.  It was a promising debut, setting her up well for her return on December 18.  She faced another daughter of Curlin that day: odds-on  favourite Wasatch.  The daughters of Curlin overwhelmed the rest of the field that day, but it was Stellar Wind who proved much the best.  She crossed the wire 8 3/4 lengths clear of Wasatch, who was herself another 8 3/4 lengths clear of her closest competitor come the wire.

That victory turned a few more heads.  Soon, she was off to California.

She turned up on the worktab at Santa Anita in January.  Her new connections, owner Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler, pointed her to a three-year-old debut in the Santa Ysabel Stakes (GIII) on February 28.  I doubted her chances to win that day, but she proved me and many others wrong with a sweeping move and an open-lengths victory.  Stellar Wind was under the radar no longer.

She followed that up with another scintillating performance in the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) on April 4.  Again off the pace, she fired another blink-of-an-eye move around the field, and took even stronger command late.  She became Curlin’s second North American Grade I winner, after Palace Malice.  (Both Curalina and Keen Ice have joined that club since.)

Her resume was strong enough that the public sent her off favoured in the Kentucky Oaks (GI).  She had a tough trip, a wide trip.  Though she did find a good stride by the end of the race, it came too late to catch Lovely Maria, Shook Up, or I’m a Chatterbox.

Stellar Wind went back to California for the summer, and raced twice more against three-year-olds.  The Summertime Oaks (GII), on June 20, proved a tougher test than many expected it to be for her.  She stalked closer to the pace than she typically did, and had a wide trip, but she showed her guts.  Tara’s Tango was tough — but Stellar Wind was just a nose tougher that day.  Two months later, she shortened up to a mile at Del Mar for the Torrey Pines Stakes (GIII).  She won it in a romp, a public workout.

Her only try against older came in the big one, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI).  Just as I had when she was taking that step up from maidens at Laurel to graded company in California, I wondered whether she would handle the step up against tougher, older horses.

Once again, Stellar Wind proved better than I thought.

Off a contested early pace, she made that sweeping wide move, the same one that had become her trademark through the prep season at Santa Anita.  Only Stopchargingmaria had enough to go with her.  Though she was bumped, sent wide, she still managed to keep going.  Stopchargingmaria went on to win by a neck, but Stellar Wind crossed the wire another three and a half lengths clear of her closest competition.  That third-place finisher was another daughter of Curlin, the multiple Grade I winning Curalina.

In a racing season that spanned from February through the Breeders’ Cup, Stellar Wind always ran her race, no matter what.  Particularly in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she proved that she could take her form on the road with her.  Even in the Kentucky Oaks, her only finish off the board, she did not fold.

In a muddled three-year-old filly division, Stellar Wind showed class and consistency.

Hopefully, Stellar Wind returns as strong at four.  If so, we may be talking about her again a year from now, as Curlin’s first multiple champion.

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