Smooth as silk under jockey Gary Stevens, Beholder vanquished both two-time champion Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar while rolling to a 4 1/4-length victory in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO) .
Beholder, last year's champion 2-year-old filly after her sharp win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), romped to victory over a track she clearly relishes. The daughter of Henny Hughes completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:44.77 on a fast track.
At age 50, Hall of Fame jockey Stevens drove Beholder to his ninth Breeders' Cup win, but his first since 2000. He returned to competition in January after a seven-year retirement.
Royal Delta, the two-time defending winner of the Distaff (then named the Ladies' Classic), was done early after pressing pacesetter Authenticity and folding up when challenged on her outside by Beholder. Princess of Sylmar, who defeated Beholder by a half -length in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) this spring, was not a factor.
Beholder races for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella and is owned by B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm. The 3-year-old bay filly was bred in Kentucky by Clarkland Farm.
Since being teamed with Stevens this summer, Beholder is 3-for-3. She was sent off at odds of 5-2 in the field of six. Close Hatches finished second, while Authenticity was third. Royal Delta, the 7-5 pick, ran fourth.
"I won't say that I expected to be on this stage 11 months ago," said Stevens, who many believe is riding as good as ever at an advanced age for someone who was forced to leave the sport with chronic knee problems. "But I was willing to accept it if the opportunity came, and I knew I was going to have to capitalize if these kind of horses came around."
The victory was Beholder's sixth in seven tries at Santa Anita and her eighth triumph overall from 12 starts. She came into the race off a sparkling front-running tally in the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 28.
"We trained her this way," Mandella said of Beholder's newfound ability to rate after being a front-runner earlier in her career. "We’ve just never had to use it before. She’s so naturally fast, you don’t have to train that into her and she’s made the lead so easily in many of her races. Today, she had to come from off of it and she did it, and boy do I love it. I’ve been lucky enough to have many good mares in my years of training, but this mare might have to be the best of all.”
Beholder settled nicely in third through the stretch the first time after breaking a bit awkwardly and maintained that position through the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch. She moved up handily alongside Royal Delta, who had tracked Authenticity through fractions of :22.78 and :46.30, late on the backstretch. It was apparent that it was not Royal Delta's day as Beholder breezed right past her and advanced to challenge Authenticity for the lead.
That battle, too, was short-lived, as Beholder took control at the quarter pole and set sail for home after receiving a couple of left-handed taps of the whip from Stevens in upper stretch.
“She was a little fractious going into the gate and a little anxious," Stevens noted. "I was afraid she might over-break but she settled and broke beautiful. This is the best race she’s ever run. I was hoping that Authenticity would carry the lead a little farther but (Beholder) moved up nice, went by her easy, and then really opened up."
Close Hatches, Royal Delta's Bill Mott-trained stablemate, took up the chase rounding the far turn but could make no headway through the lane. Beholder continued to increase her advantage in the final furlong after opening a 3 1/2-length advantage at the eighth pole.
Close Hatches was second by 1 3/4 lengths over Authenticity. Royal Delta struggled home fourth, 8 1/4 lengths behind Beholder, while outsider Street Girl ran fifth. Princess of Sylmar, the presumed 3-year-old champion filly after consecutive grade I wins in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama Stakes, and Beldame Invitational Stakes, was asked for more on the turn by Javier Castellano but had no response while finishing last.
The race started poorly for Princess of Sylmar, who stumbled outwardly at the break and was never able to get into contention.
Mott, who raced Royal Delta without Lasix for the fourth straight race in the Distaff, said he had no indication coming in that she would not give her top effort. He said the pace set by Authenticity may have hurt her.
“She’s had three hard campaigns. I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of good horses and it’s difficult to have more than two good campaigns with any horse," the Hall of Fame conditioner said. "This mare has come back and won grade I’s this year and I see no reason why she wouldn’t be champion older mare. She didn’t win the Breeders’ Cup, but she’s been good to us. She’s won two championships and maybe three, and won a couple of Breeders’ Cups. It’s not a bad career."
Asked if Royal Delta would be retired, Mott said: “Maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s time.”
“She didn’t have it today," said Mike Smith, jockey on Royal Delta. "No spark, man. Early on, I knew it. She usually takes the race to somebody, but not today. I thought when Beholder come up to her, she would pick it up, but she didn’t. I asked and I asked and nothing. I’m kind of dumbfounded."
Beholder, out of the Tricky Creek mare Leslie's Lady, was a $180,000 Keeneland September yearling buy in 2011. She extended her career earnings to $3,075,000, with the winner's share of $1.1 million. The victory was her first in two starts at nine furlongs, her other try at the distance coming in the Kentucky Oaks.
Getting a three-pound weight allowance while carrying 121, Beholder paid $7.60, $4.20, and $3.20 as the slight third choice behind Princess of Sylmar. She topped a $42.60 exacta. Close Hatches returned $6.60 and $4.80, while Authenticity paid $4.20 to show.
“Authenticity ran her race," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who saddled both the runner-up and Princess of Sylmar. "(Authenticity) ran well. She fought hard for third and I thought she ran a really good race."