The ones who billed it as a battle between champions were technically correct. To many, those words were just bluster, a weak attempt to inject drama where there was none.
Both Beholder and Stellar Wind were Eclipse Award winners, sure. But Beholder had three such honours under her girth, and was a strong choice every single time. Stellar Wind? Yes, she was last year’s champion three-year-old, but the argument over who should have won that award will rage for years to come.
Stellar Wind had faced Beholder once before, last month in the Vanity Mile (GI). It was Stellar Wind’s first start since her runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) last fall. And, she acquitted herself well. She never looked like she was going to catch Beholder, but she rallied to secure the place. She proved she had come back well at four…and though beating Beholder was a tall ask, she did as well as anyone could have reasonably expected.
The public expected something similar in the Clement L. Hirsch (GI). The tote board made that abundantly clear: Beholder went off 1/9, with Stellar Wind the second choice at 9/2.
They got nothing that resembled the disparity between Beholder’s and Stellar Wind’s tote prices. Instead, they got a battle that lived up to its billing as a showdown between champions.
Beholder came out of the gate a bit roughly, yet still alertly, and took the lead. Victor Espinoza got Stellar Wind going quickly, and urged her to stay on Beholder’s flank. The Dream joined Stellar Wind in that flight briefly, prompting Beholder along, but retreated just as soon.
Into the far turn, Beholder and Stellar Wind separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Espinoza pushed Stellar Wind along through the far turn. She cut into Beholder’s lead, a promising sign…but, though Gary Stevens was beginning to get on Beholder, Stellar Wind had been asked just a little more. Knowing Beholder, knowing what she was capable of, anyone cheering for Stellar Wind had to be dreading when Stevens actually pushed the button on his mare.
They turned for home. Stellar Wind hit the front. Stevens pushed Beholder along. She regained the lead. Espinoza implored Stellar Wind to give her best. She responded, coming back on Beholder. They approached the sixteenth pole. Beholder’s lead shrunk once more. Stellar Wind drew even. Stellar Wind nosed in front. Stevens kept asking. Beholder kept trying.
But, the daughter of Curlin had just a little bit more. Stellar Wind hit the wire half a length in front.
Come Eclipse Awards day, Beholder and Stellar Wind are now in the same division. Stellar Wind will have to do a lot more to get her nose in front in that particular race, to rival Beholder’s trio of titles.
But, today? Stellar Wind won the battle, and the champion so many doubted proved herself worthy of the name.