Blinkers Off has now been around for almost four years. That means four Arlington Millions, four Kentucky Derbies, four Jim Edgar Illinois Futurities. It also means — for the next twelve days — it’s time for the fourth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies!
As always, this is not just a countdown of his progeny’s biggest wins. It’s easy enough, after all, to hear when they sound the trumpets for his graded stakes winners, his million-dollar maiden winners. Instead, these are the ones that, at year’s end, I find to be his most memorable. Some are graded stakes; others happened at more workmanlike levels. Some are wins; others are races that a Curlin baby didn’t necessarily win, but their presence made the race that much more special.
Let’s begin our look back at the best moments of another year in Curlin babies!
#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
Last year, Stellar Wind (Evening Star, by Malibu Moon) began her four-year-old campaign in the Vanity Mile (G1). Though Beholder held the John Sadler trainee well at bay that day, Stellar Wind turned the tables in the Clement Hirsch (G1), and once again carried owner Hronis Racing’s silks to the winners’ circle in the Zenyatta (G1).
This year, the Vanity Mile was renamed for Beholder, and Stellar Wind called on all her grit to join its winner’s roll.
Unlike last year’s Vanity, this year’s Beholder did not begin Stellar Wind’s season. Her yearly debut had instead come at Oaklawn in the Apple Blossom Handicap. That clear April day, Stellar Wind sat off the pace set by fellow Curlin daughter Terra Promessa, then edged clear to take top billing in the first of two Grade 1 Curlin babies exactas this year.
While Stellar Wind was away from the west coast distaff circuit, Vale Dori came out to play. Trainer Bob Baffert and owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Makhtoum deserve all the credit for how they timed Vale Dori’s year. In 2016, Vale Dori had chased Stellar Wind and Beholder around in the Zenyatta, but finished third beaten almost a dozen lengths. Heading into 2017, discretion looked the better part of valour. Her six-race campaign focused on the first half of the year, and she tallied four wins (including the G1 Santa Margarita) as Stellar Wind took her winter vacation and made her seasonal debut in Hot Springs.
Come the Beholder Mile, Vale Dori would get the chance to answer the question: could she turn the tables on Stellar Wind? Or, would Stellar Wind prove superior, and take the first race named after the champion she had twice conquered last year?
In a field of just three, tactics can mean everything.
Though the third entrant, Finest City, was herself a champion sprinter, rail-drawn Vale Dori dashed sharpest from the gate and carved out the early fractions. Jockey Victor Espinoza threaded Stellar Wind through the pair into the first turn, settling her to press outside Vale Doris’ flank.
Down the backstretch, Stellar Wind pushed her on. Through the far turn, she kept pressing. Vale Dori kept the lead, but never got a breather. Stellar Wind forged closer…half a length away, a neck, a head. They turned for home on even terms. Down the lane, Vale Dori never stopped fighting, proving herself a stronger and worthier competitor than she had been the year before.
But, Stellar Wind had just a bit more. She wore down Vale Dori just enough to edge out of the duel in the final sixteenth of a mile, winning by a resolute neck.
After a great — surely Hall of Fame — career, Beholder deserved to have this race named after her. There was no more fitting winner in its first running as the Beholder Mile than Stellar Wind — and there was no more proper way for her to win than in a gritty battle, one that whispered of the showdowns between her and the great mare last year.