A year ago, Spendthrift Farm’s multiple champion Beholder used her victory in Del Mar’s Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI) as a springboard to her first meeting with her male counterparts in the Pacific Classic (GI), in which she handily defeated a strong field of handicap stars. This year, the daughter of Henny Hughes will take the same path, but, once again, must first defeat the best in the Southern California distaff division before moving on to the boys’ league, as she faces a field of four other distaffers in the 46th running of the 1 1/16-mile event.
The Del Mar weather continues to be warmer and more humid than usual, but always sunny with a lovely ocean breeze and the afternoon high is expected to reach the mid-80s, guaranteeing another day with a fast track. The Hirsch has been carded as the afternoon’s 8th race with a post time of 5:33 p.m. EST.
The Clement L. Hirsch was once known as the Chula Vista Handicap, but was renamed in 2000 to honor the man who created the Oak Tree Racing Association and who passed away that same year. Many good distaffers have won the race over the years, including champions Princess Rooney, Bayakoa, Paseana, Sharp Cat, Azeri (twice) and Zenyatta (three times). All but Sharp Cat are in the Hall of Fame and Zenyatta will be enshrined there in two weeks.
This year, Beholder stands heads and shoulders above her rivals, though rival Stellar Wind is also a champion, and while her innermost post position isn’t ideal, it really shouldn’t make any difference unless she throws in the clunker of her life. The six-year-old mare hasn’t lost in more than two years and dominates by multiple lengths when she wins. She also has a tactical turn of foot to either set the pace or sit just off it and has been masterfully prepared by her Hall of Fame conditioner, Richard Mandella. Gary Stevens has been in the saddle for every win for more than a year, so he knows her and it just seems hard to think she’ll lose in here.
Stellar Wind drew just to the outside of Beholder and also carries a championship banner, but in her first start of the year in the Vanity Mile (GI) at Santa Anita last out, she was second to Beholder in what was an impressive performance on her own. They say it’s no shame to finish behind a horse of Beholder’s status, but trainer John Sadler doesn’t send horses out to finish second and it’s safe to say if anyone will give the top choice a run for her money it’s Stellar Wind. Victor Espinoza returns on the daughter of Curlin and she’s signaled she’s fit and ready by a couple of nice works over the surface.
Mandella also sends out Off the Road to take a stab at defeating Beholder. Maybe he thinks this Brazilian group 1 winner is good for a check, but she’s yet to win on North American soil, though she was second sprinting in a main-track stakes at Santa Anita in April. She may be a paddock inspection selection for the exotics.
Divina Comedia won a listed stakes over Santa Anita’s main track earlier this month and looked good doing it, but she’s already finished well behind Beholder and would need her best to pass the top two in the lane.
Chilean-bred group 1 winner The Dream runs for the first time in North America and will be first-time Lasix in this race. Hard to tell what kind of runner she’ll be, but she’s been mostly a turf performer in her homeland and while trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, it’s probably best to take a wait-and-see attitude on this daughter of the late Scat Daddy.