Handicapping the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff

Stellar Wind

By Vance Hanson,

Not until Court Vision turned in a massive upset (64-1) of the 2011 Mile (G1) had a horse won a Breeders’ Cup race after losing the same event twice before. The connections of Stellar Wind hope a similar persistence pays off Friday when she seeks to land the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in her third attempt.

Like any handicapper/bettor, I’m sometimes guilty of the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We can probably all name horses we’ve backed on multiple occasions, hoping a little more luck or other factor will make up for prior disappointments but to no avail. Having bet Stellar Wind in each of the last two Distaffs, I’ll resist the temptation to do so again.

The John Sadler-trained mare has had her share of bad luck in the race. In 2015, at Keeneland, she was bumped and floated out by eventual winner Stopchargingmaria through the stretch, but the stewards too no action after Stellar Wind fell short by a neck.

While that performance was enough to cement her status as champion of the three-year-old filly division, Stellar Wind wound up losing the older female title to Beholder after a dull try in the Distaff at Santa Anita last year.

“Last year, she just picked a very inopportune time to not break well,” trainer John Sadler said this week. “We went through this in depth because of the magnitude of what it meant and (jockey) Victor (Espinoza) said she stood beautifully, but the moment they sprung the gates she was taking one step back.

“She’s not nervous in the gate but she’s a little distracted. She’s a horse that likes to stop and look at her surroundings. We thought that the ground she lost getting off slow is what cost her.”

The slow start undoubtedly cost Stellar Wind as did the subsequent wide trip down the backside and around the final turn, where she came under a drive from Espinoza. She proved flat in the stretch, weakening to fourth.

Losing was hardly unexpected in such a deep field, but that dull of try from a filly that had beaten four-time champion Beholder in the Clement L. Hirsch (G1) and Zenyatta (G1) in two of the best performances of the year was.

On the surface, you can’t complain with Stellar Wind’s record in 2017. She’s won as the odds-on favorite in the Apple Blossom H. (G1), Beholder Mile (G1), and Clement L. Hirsch, plus is three-for-three lifetime over the Del Mar strip.

Digging deeper, though, and anything in the vicinity of her 5-2 morning line price doesn’t seem like much of a bargain. Reeling in a loose-on-the-lead Terra Promessa in the Apple Blossom looked no sure thing until very late, though some slack can be cut as she was coming off of a layoff facing a rival with recent form.

Stellar Wind’s victories in the Beholder and Hirsch were tighter as she bested Vale Dori by a neck both times. Although much improved this year, it’s hard to overlook the fact Vale Dori had finished 12 lengths behind Stellar wind and Beholder in last year’s Zenyatta and was not considered in satisfactory condition to enter the Distaff herself.

All due credit to Stellar Wind and her connections if third time is indeed the charm for her on Friday, but it just feels from this view her best chances were in the past. My Distaff exacta play will be Forever Unbridled, who finished a strong third behind Beholder and Songbird last year, over three-year-old challenger Elate.

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