The much-anticipated match between champions Beholder and Stellar Wind has finally arrived, and the duo drew the two inside posts for Saturday’s $400,000 Vanity Mile (G1) at Santa Anita Park.
The eight-furlong affair attracted a field of seven, but all eyes will be on the two Eclipse Award winners.
Beholder found her 2015 campaign cut short after she bled during routine exercise just days before a highly touted showdown with Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland. Trainer Richard Mandella scratched the daughter of Henny Hughes from that race and shipped her back to California.
The bay mare was given a well-deserved vacation over the winter, not getting her six-year-old season underway until showing up to take the Adoration (G3) at Santa Anita Park on May 8. She only earned an 89 BRIS Speed rating, her first number in the 80s since running fourth in her career debut in June 2012, but all comments after the Adoration revealed just how little effort she had to expend for the 2 1/2-length score.
Beholder comes into the Vanity Mile off a :48.60 move on Tuesday at Santa Anita and brings along regular rider Gary Stevens as she seeks her eighth straight win and 17th triumph from 22 career starts.
Stellar Wind is lightly raced in comparison, boasting only eight races thus far, but has racked up a 5-1-1 mark from those starts. The John Sadler trainee makes her four-year-old bow in this spot after concluding her sophomore season with a tough-luck neck second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
That was enough for the Grade 1-winning chestnut miss to be honored as the champion three-year-old filly of 2015, and the Culrin lass has been working up a storm since early April to ready for her showdown with Beholder. Stellar Wind posted five furlongs in :59.60 last Saturday over the track and gets regular jockey Victor Espinoza in the irons as she attempts to dethrone “Queen B.”
Five other runners will try to disrupt the champions’ party, headed by last-out Humana Distaff (G1) romper Taris. Trained by Simon Callaghan, the five-year-old mare opened 2016 with a 5 1/4-length La Canada (G2) victory and then ran a close second in the Santa Margarita (G1) before taking the Humana Distaff by 5 3/4 lengths.
The versatile mare may end up being scratched from the Vanity Mile in favor of facing the boys in the seven-furlong Triple Bend (G1) on June 25. Callaghan revealed that race was under consideration for Flatter mare last week and, though Taris showed up in the entry box for this one, could still opt for the shorter race.
The Vanity Mile also includes Lost Bus and Finest City, who were one-two, respectively, in the January 23 Santa Monica (G2) and three-one, respectively, in the Great Lady M. (G2) last out on April 23. All Star Bub, who was third in the Adoration, will line up and French-bred Divina Comedia completes the field.
One race before the Vanity Mile, six runners will go that same distance on the turf course in the $400,000 Shoemaker Mile (G1).
Heart to Heart is looking to get back to his winning ways after seeing a three-race win streak broken when second in the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) last out at Keeneland. The Grade 2-scoring Canadian champion finished fourth in the 2013 Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) in his only previous attempt on Santa Anita’s turf, but gets a jockey switch to Flavien Prat for Saturday’s run.
Two-time stakes scorer Tourist is attempting to finally break through with a Grade 1 win after finishing third in last year’s Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) and this April’s Maker’s 46 Mile, as well as second in the 2014 Secretariat (G1). The dark bay son of Tiznow recently got up for fourth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) on the Kentucky Derby undercard and will be reunited with Jose Lezcano on Saturday.
Home Run Kitten is the only Shoemaker Mile entrant bringing a last-out win into the race, but that came via the off-the-turf, downgraded-pending-review American S. on Santa Anita’s main track. Before that the five-year-old chestnut’s last win came in the 2014 Eddie D. (G3), once again on the downhill turf.
Twentytwentyvision finished third in the American after running second in the Thunder Road (G3) over yielding course and distance. Dual Grade 2 victor Midnight Storm finished second in last year’s Shoemaker Mile, but has shown little in two races thus far this season.
Rounding out the field is British-bred Cape Wolfe, who was a nice second in the San Simeon (G3) on the downhill turf course but well-beaten when going a mile in the grassy Arcadia (G2) one race prior.
Beholder photo courtesy of Benoit Photos