Stellar Wind, Vale Dori Top Clement Hirsch

A compact but talented field of six will square off in Sunday’s $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI) at Del Mar, a Breeders’ Cup Championship “Win and You’re In” event guaranteeing the winner a spot in the starting gate for the Nov. 3 $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) over the same track.

The Del Mar weather continues to be beautiful, though the humidity is expected to rise for the weekend 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 eighth 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 taken home the winner’s trophy 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.

Champion Stellar Wind and Grade 1 winner Vale Dori, who finished 1-2, respectively, and a neck apart at the wire when they met last out in the Beholder Mile (GI) at Santa Anita last month, will share center stage in the 1 1/16-mile feature and will be joined by four other runners who, while talented, don’t carry the same star power as the top two.

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Stellar Wind, who was fourth behind Beholder, Songbird and Forever Unbridled in the Distaff last year, came back to the races this year in top form and has returned to the winner’s circle after both starts in the Apple Blossom Handicap (GI) at Oaklawn Park and, then, the aforementioned Beholder Mile. Over her career, the 5-year-old daughter of Curlin has amassed a record of 14-9-2-1 for earnings of more than $2.8 million and has faced every tough runner to come along.

With Beholder retired and Songbird sitting this race out after winning the Delaware Handicap (GI) two weeks ago, this may be Stellar Wind’s year to finally get out from their shadows and shine. She’s earned some good numbers, including several speed figures in the triple digits, and the John Sadler trainee, who likes to stalk a good pace, should get what she’s looking for under regular rider Victor Espinoza. Post three is perfect and while she played the upsetter in this race a year ago, she’s the one with the bullseye on her back this time.

Vale Dori and jockey Mike Smith (photo by Jim Safford).

Vale Dori and jockey Mike Smith (photo by Jim Safford).

Vale Dori has dominated the Southern California distaff division all year while her main rivals were resting or shipping or retired. The Argentine-bred racked up a streak of six wins, beginning with a 10 ¼-length allowance score and continuing with five graded stakes victories, including a pair of Grade 1s. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains the bay filly for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum and the daughter of Asiatic Boy will no doubt head straight for the lead and find her comfort spot showing the way under Mike Smith, with her main  rival (Stellar Wind) stalking closely from behind.

Baffert also sends out the ultra consistent Faithfully, a 4-year-old daughter of Smart Strike who won the non-graded Santa Lucia Stakes at Santa Anita last month. She’s lightly raced and improving and she won’t need much to get a Grade 1 placing with her typical mid-pack stalking trip under jockey Rafael Bejarano.

Autumn Flower is a nice allowance/non-graded stakes type who with her best may be able to pick up a share, but seems in a bit tough for a win.

Shenandoah Queen gets a new trainer in John Sadler and makes her first Southern California start, but she’s probably better suited to softer company.

Motown Lady is another in an ambitious spot.

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