As in years past, 2012 champion juvenile filly Beholder might have been the expected and overwhelming favorite in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). But not this year.
Installed as the co-second choice at morning line odds of 7-2 in the 1 1/8-mile race, the daughter of Henny Hughes will have her work cut out for her when she faces a field of 10 other accomplished fillies, including 3-1 favorite and runaway Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. I) winner Dreaming of Julia.
Although Beholder's decorated résumé includes victories in the 2012 Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and this year's Las Virgenes (gr. I) and Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), she's a bit in the shadows of some fellow contenders. Her connections are confident, however, she will hold her own May 3.
"It's a tough field, but I'm not really worried about it," said owner B. Wayne Hughes, who campaigns Beholder in the name of his Spendthrift Farm. "They're going to have to run to beat her—I can tell you that. It's not going to be an easy deal for somebody."
When owned by late founder Leslie Combs, Spendthrift was represented by Oaks winners Lucky Lucky Lucky in 1984 and Silent Beauty in 1971. But a score by Beholder would mark the first victory for the farm under Hughes' ownership.
Spendthrift manager Ned Toffey accompanied Hughes to the backstretch of Churchill Downs April 30 to observe Beholder gallop over the track. The filly will make her first start outside of California in the Oaks.
"She's not easy going—she's excitable—but she shipped well, and we were concerned about that," said Toffey of Beholder, who races for her Hall of Fame conditioner, 63-year-old Richard Mandella. "So far she's taking it all in stride and handling it like a champion."
Bred in Kentucky by Clarkland Farm, Beholder is a half sister to grade I winner Into Mischief , who stands at Spendthrift near Lexington and is the sire of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contenders Vyjack and Goldencents. Toffey said Beholder's kinship to the stallion understandably weighed into Spendthrift's decision to purchase her for $180,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.
"(The sale) was before (Into Mischief) had hit as a stallion, but he's a plenty accomplished racehorse and we felt like he was even better than what he got to show," said Toffey. "So that really carried a lot of weight for us in terms of buying her."
Toffey didn't get the opportunity to be around Beholder for long after the sale, as she was sent to Raul Reyes' King's Equine in Ocala to be broken, after which she was shipped to Mandella's barn in Southern California. One trait that stood out when she was a young horse, however, was her beautiful appearance.
"She's a really, really good-looking filly," said Toffey, adding that her name came from the saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
Mandella is also looking for his first win in the Oaks and is hopeful Beholder will deliver.
"I would prefer (the Oaks field) to be easier so I could stick my chest out and brag a lot, but I feel that way anyway with my filly," he said. "I'm sure Todd Pletcher and those other guys love their fillies, too, but I wouldn't trade her for anything."
When asked why Beholder was so special, Mandella noted, "She's extremely talented for one. And she's a very healthy, strong filly and able to take it all in. That's the main concoction."
Added Hughes: "We're just glad to be here...we're in a tough race, but we have a good filly and she's ready to run. If they beat us, we're going to be beat by a better horse, not because we're not ready—we're ready."