Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny throughout 2016. Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.
#12: My Curby makes a winning visit to Arlington
#11: Reversiontothemean finds the wire just in time
#10: Theogony goes long in the Rags to Riches
#9: Barbara’s Smile soars against the boys
#8: Fireball Merlin and Copperplate go clockwise
#7: Undulated debuts without fear
#6 Stellar Wind defeats a champion in the Clement Hirsch
Last year in California, Stellar Wind (Evening Star, by Malibu Moon) ruled the sophomore fillies’ division while Beholder ruled the distaffers. Both won Eclipse awards in their respective divisions. However, they never crossed paths on race day. Stellar Wind remained against her own age group until the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), a race Beholder did not contest.
This year, the gloves were off. If they both stayed on the west coast circuit, they would have no choice but to clash.
Their first match came on June 4 in the Vanity Mile (GI). Beholder had gotten an easy prep in the Adoration (GIII) a month earlier. Stellar Wind had not seen the starter since finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff the previous October. Beholder pressed the early pace set by sprinter Lost Bus, drew off, and held by daylight. Stellar Wind tried all the way to the wire, but could only muster second. Still, it was just her first race of the year. She had room to improve.
Almost two months later, in the Clement L. Hirsch, Stellar Wind got another chance at Beholder. The Vanity, billed as a battle of champions, proved a mere prelude.
The Clement Hirsch featured the true showdown.
The race drew just five, but all eyes were on Stellar Wind and Beholder. Almost all the money, however, was on Beholder: she went off 1/9, to Stellar Wind’s 9/2.
Stellar Wind, in her second start of the year, proved she was all grown up. She took a step forward from three to four, and had what it took to challenge the queen of the distaffers.
Beholder lunged just a bit at the start, but got to the front. Stellar Wind settled at Beholder’s outside flank. The Dream tried to stalk inside her; the other two galloped further back. That shape changed little until the field hit the far turn.
Into the curve, Beholder and Stellar Wind quickened. No one else matched them; they opened up four, five, six lengths. The race was on.
Stellar Wind not only matched Beholder — she made up ground. Beholder’s lead shrunk to half a length, a neck, a head…and nothing separated them past the quarter pole.
Stellar Wind poked her head in front in shallow stretch, but Beholder would not give up that easily. She fought back to even terms near the furlong pole. Stellar Wind would need to find just a bit more to topple her toughest foe yet.
She did. Passing the sixteenth pole, Stellar Wind got her head back in front. This time, there was nothing fleeting about it. Momentum had swung her way for good. She edged ahead, hitting the wire half a length in front of Beholder.
Those who recoiled from calling it a battle of the champions could scoff no longer. Stellar Wind not only gave Beholder a challenge, but handed her defeat.
If Stellar Wind had done that once, it would have been sweet. But, on October 1, Stellar Wind and Beholder rematched in the Zenyatta Stakes (GI). Once again, the pair of champions faced three overmatched foes. Once again, Stellar Wind and Beholder fought the length of the stretch. Once again, Stellar Wind prevailed.
Stellar Wind’s name deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as Beholder’s.
Stellar Wind raced once more in 2016, returning to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Once again, Beholder was part of a stretch duel for the ages — but, unfortunately, not against Stellar Wind. Songbird pressed Beholder to her limit, but Beholder went out with one last victory.
Stellar Wind failed to fire, and finished fourth in the Distaff. But, her story continues. She remains in training. If all goes well, she will make her five-year-old debut in March, in the Santa Margarita (GI).