Who Is the Best Clement L. Hirsch Winner?

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July 31st, 2021

The Clement L. Hirsch S. (G1), now a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), is one of the highlights of the Del Mar summer meet. Before looking ahead at the exciting 2021 renewal, let's look back to some of the distaff division stars who have won it in years past. And, you tell us: who is the best Clement L. Hirsch winner of all time?

Azeri: Azeri dominated the older filly and mare ranks through the first half of the 2000s. Though she didn't make her racing debut until November of her three-year-old year, three straight wins in maiden and then allowance company got her ready to face graded foes. Though she missed by a length to Summer Colony in the 2002 La Canada (G2), her first graded try, that was her only loss in nine starts at four. She romped next out in the Santa Margarita (G1) and was the best older female in training from there. She won seven graded races that year, including the first of two in the Clement L. Hirsch, and finished her season with a five-length romp in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. That made her not only champion older mare, but Horse of the Year. Though her five-year-old campaign was cut short after a tendon injury in the Lady's Secret (G2), Azeri's four graded wins that year, including a repeat in the Clement L. Hirsch, secured her another champion older mare title. She recovered from her injury and moved from the barn of Laura de Seroux to that of D. Wayne Lukas. About six months after her injury, Azeri won her third Apple Blossom (G1) in a row, in her first start back. Even though she finished off the board in the Metropolitan H. (G1) and the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), her three Grade 1 wins were enough to secure a third straight champion older mare trophy.

Bayakoa: Bayakoa was a star on two continents. Bred in Argentina, she began her career there. Her 12-length triumph in the Gran Premio Palermo (G1) in November 1987 impressed trainer Ron McAnally, and owners Janis and Frank Whitham purchased her to race in the United States. In 1988 she got accustomed to racing in the U.S., starting seven times and winning twice. In 1989, she became a star. She won the Santa Margarita (G1), her first top-level try since Argentina, and that kicked off a five-race win streak. Though she was defeated in the Chula Vista (G2) (the race now known as the Clement L. Hirsch), she closed out 1989 with confident victories in the Ruffian (G1), Spinster (G1), and Breeders' Cup Distaff, sealing champion older mare honors.  She also starred the next year, winning seven of her 10 starts, including a three-race win streak to end the season: the Chula Vista, the Spinster, and the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Beholder: No mare defined the mid-2010s like Beholder. Though she only won one graded race at two, she made it count: she wired the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), turning the tables on Executiveprivilege, who had nosed her out in the Del Mar Debutante (G1). Beholder earned the two-year-old championship and was a champion at three, too. Though Princess of Sylmar beat her by a half-length in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Beholder won four Grade 1s, including the Breeders' Cup Distaff by an authoritative 4 1/4 lengths over Close Hatches. Though Beholder only raced three times at four, and was out of discussion for a third championship, she still successfully defended in the Zenyatta (G1). At five and six, though, Beholder came back better than ever. In 2015, a romping victory in the Clement Hirsch tuned her up for the signature victory of her career, an  8 1/4-length romp over males in the Pacific Classic (G1). Though illness derailed her attempt in the Breeders' Cup Classic, she was still named champion older mare at age five. In her final season, at six, she ran into a few narrow defeats at the hands of California Chrome and Stellar Wind, but brought her best again when it mattered. She got her nose up in a thrilling stretch duel over Songbird in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, cementing her fourth championship.

Princess Rooney: Though she is the namesake of a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) prep, Princess Rooney herself could go a lot longer. The gray was a stakes winner going six furlongs as a juvenile, but the daughter of Verbatim stretched out beautifully to win the Frizette (G1) at a mile as well as the 1 1/16-mile Gardenia (G2) at the Meadowlands. Princess Rooney was a leading two-turn three-year-old of her class, winning both the Ashland (G2) and the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Though those are two of the most important races of the year in the division, a later bloomer named Heartlight No. One (yes, owned by Burt Bacharach and named after one of his songs!) took the championship that year on the strength of wins in the Hollywood Oaks (G1), Del Mar Oaks (G2), and Ruffian (G1). So good since her juvenile year, Princess Rooney finally had a championship at age four. She won four graded stakes in 1984 including the Vanity, Chula Vista (G3), Spinster, and the inaugural Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1). That day she attended the pace, kicked clear in upper stretch, and won by seven emphatic lengths.

Zenyatta: As consistent a closer as has ever lined up in a starting gate, Zenyatta won 19 of her 20 starts. Though she did not make it to the track until November of her three-year-old year, she quickly made up for lost time. She started 2008 with no stakes experience; by the end, she was champion older mare. A 4 1/2-length winner of the Apple Blossom in her first Grade 1 try, she would win five Grade 1s in total that year, including the first of three in the Clement L. Hirsch, as well as the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She only raced five times at five, but she made them count. Her wins included a repeat in the Clement L. Hirsch and a thrilling one-length win over Gio Ponti in the Breeders' Cup Classic, becoming the first mare to win it. At six, Zenyatta was as good as ever, winning five more Grade 1 races, including the Clement L. Hirsch and the Lady's Secret, which would take her name the next year. She returned to the Breeders' Cup Classic to defend her title. As always, she fired. Unlike before, she missed as Blame held on by a head. But she lost nothing in defeat. Not only did she win champion older mare honors for a third time, but was also named Horse of the Year.

Who is the greatest Clement L. Hirsch winner of all time?

Last week, we asked you the best turf sprinter of the 2010s. With a strong 50% of the vote, your choice was two-time Royal Ascot winner Lady Aurelia. She was followed up by two-time Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal, who had 25% of the vote.