Pegasus World Cup an ambitious spot for champion Stellar Wind's finale

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

January 22nd, 2018

By the time the Pegasus World Cup (G1) field reaches the Gulfstream Park paddock for Saturday's race, there will be two newly-crowned champions for fans to gaze at.

Gun Runner is a virtual cinch to be named champion older dirt male and Horse of the Year at Thursday night's Eclipse Award ceremony, while West Coast is heavily favored to take home the hardware as 2017's leading three-year-old male.

There is, however, one official champion already among the World Cup probables, but STELLAR WIND is understandably a minor player in this week's narrative.

Crowned the 2015 champion three-year-old filly by a surprisingly large plurality, Stellar Wind was among the top older mares in both 2016 and 2017. However, her chances at winning a second championship were snuffed out both seasons after poor showings in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1).

Stellar Wind entered the 2016 Distaff at Santa Anita as the division leader with a 2-1 head-to-head edge over rival Beholder. Floating the idea that trying her against males in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) would perhaps be a safer option to clinch the championship than hoping to beat Beholder a third time and the then-undefeated three-year-old Songbird, that thought apparently never crossed the minds of her connections.

Choosing to win it the hard way, Stellar Wind wound up losing it all very early in the 1 1/8-mile test, breaking in the air and never recovering. She finished fourth to Beholder, who won her second older female title (and fourth Eclipse overall) by nosing out Songbird in one of the Breeders' Cup's most epic races.

Things didn't go much better for Stellar Wind this past November at Del Mar. Undefeated, albeit by narrow margins, following the Apple Blossom H. (G1), Beholder Mile (G1), and Clement L. Hirsch (G1), another bad break sealed the mare's championship fate. She faded badly in the final quarter-mile and trailed the field of eight with Forever Unbridled, who had also beat her to the wire in the 2016 Distaff, winning it all.

Sold for $6 million to Coolmore at the Keeneland November sale a few days after the Breeders' Cup, Stellar Wind will be making her final career start in the Pegasus World Cup and will be bred to American Pharoah this spring.

After such let-downs on one of racing's biggest stages (let's not forget she lost the 2015 Distaff, too), why is Stellar Wind in the Pegasus? Besides the obvious (i.e. the $16 million reason), Coolmore undoubtedly likes being involved in events of this magnitude. Having sold their World Cup slot a year ago to Juddmonte, which used it to secure an entry for eventual winner Arrogate, Coolmore is now an actual participant in the richest race ever run.

It's a longshot bid, for sure. We're talking about the second or third best older mare in the country last season taking on males that topped their respective divisions. In recent times, only Zenyatta ever fared well in scenarios similar to this. Even poor Lady's Secret, the reigning Horse of the Year at the time, stopped on a dime after a half-mile in the 1987 Donn H. (G2), the Pegasus' forerunner, trailing by more than 30 lengths as an odds-on favorite.

The most significant plus in Stellar Wind's favor is new trainer Chad Brown, who took over from John Sadler following her sale. Favored to win his own Eclipse Award Thursday night, Brown might also be celebrating championship wins by Good Magic and Lady Eli that evening. The man has proven time and again he's a force to be reckoned with in any kind of race, and has had the mare work in company with one of his top Kentucky Derby (G1) prospects, Mask, with satisfactory results.

It would be a tremendous feat and shock if Stellar Wind ran to her name on Saturday. In reality, connections would probably be thankful just to break even on their investment, which would require a fourth-place finish. I don't envision using her in my wagering plans, but the presence of any champion adds a little dash and flair to the proceedings.

(Leslie Martin/Adam Coglianese Photography)