Trainer Richard Mandella said he'd try Spendthrift Farm's two-time champion Beholder against males in the TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 22 at Del Mar, as long as she showed she was ready off three weeks rest since her romp in the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. I).
On draw day for the $1 million race, that's exactly what she was—getting post 9 in a field of 10 for her first start against males in a race that has never been won by a filly or mare.
Not only is she entered with Hall of Famer Gary Stevens to ride, but the 5-year-old seven-time grade I winner is the morning-line favorite at odds of 5-2.
"She couldn't be better," Mandella said of the Henny Hughes mare.
Four females have run in the Pacific Classic since its first edition in 1991—Paseana (1992, fifth), Island Fashion (2005, ninth), Amani (2012, sixth), and Byrama (2013, seventh)—but only Paseana drew favoritism at 8-5.
But whether Beholder can beat males is just one of the unknowns. She'll also be trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time, but Mandella is heartened by her recent performances in 1 1/16-mile races and the 1 1/8-mile Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) in 2013, when she drew off to win by 4 1/4 lengths.
"Those are the two questions," Mandella said. "I believe in her and I believe she's going to answer both well. But we've got to do it, not just talk about it. She drew off in the Distaff and that all adds up to me."
With the Pacific Classic offering a "Win and You're In" entry in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) to the winner, Mandella did not say if Beholder would take that step over a Distaff run, which she already qualified for with the Hirsch victory.
"It's too early for that," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "We'll run this race. We wouldn't want to worry about that just yet."
Fellow Mandella trainee Catch a Flight, a three-time graded winner who won the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) last time out, is the second choice at 9-2 and will break from post 7 with jockey Flavien Prat.
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"Beholder has drawn a lot of attention for doing something like this, and rightfully so, but Catch a Flight is a quiet, good horse," Mandella said.
Bob Baffert-trained grade I winners Bayern (Rafael Bejarano, post 3) and Hoppertunity (Martin Garcia, post 8)—third and fourth, respectively, in the San Diego—also are entered for the Pacific Classic. Hoppertunity is the co-third choice (5-1) with Hard Aces (Victor Espinoza, post 4), who won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I) June 27. Bayern, who has not won since his controversial victory in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), is 6-1 on the morning line, as is East Coast shipper Red Vine (Joel Rosario, post 5), who won three straight races before running second in the Salvador Mile Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park July 5.
Baffert had previously indicated Bayern needed a competitive race following out-of-the-money runs in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) and the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I). The San Diego may have provided that.
"He struggled with the track (in the San Diego)," Baffert said. "He's got to go fast early. He's the quickest and he has to break well, but he likes a fast track and every day is different here. He's been working well and I didn't want to ship him, so we'll give him another chance."
Bayern will also get Bejarano, Del Mar's leading jockey, instead of Garcia, who will land on Hoppertunity this time.
"He's been working him in the mornings," Baffert said of Bejarano. "Sometimes you've got to mix it up."
Hard Aces, who defeated Catch a Flight and Hoppertunity in the Gold Cup, and already has his ticket punched to the Breeders' Cup Classic with that victory, could be flying under the radar if he builds off his previous performance. Trainer John Sadler decided to run him just once at Del Mar with the Breeders' Cup bid already in his back pocket.
"When you come down here, you know the schedule," Sadler said. "He's been well-traveled this year, he's been working well, and that's how we wanted to do it. I don't mind (flying under the radar). We're in good shape with him. I feel like this is icing on the cake."
Del Mar, Saturday, August 22, 2015, Race 9
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Class Leader (KY) Mike E. Smith 124 John W. Sadler - 2 2Bailoutbobby (KY) James Graham 124 Doug F. O'Neill - 3 3Bayern (KY) Rafael Bejarano 124 Bob Baffert - 4 4Hard Aces (KY) Victor Espinoza 124 John W. Sadler - 5 5Red Vine (KY) Joel Rosario 124 Christophe Clement - 6 6Imperative (KY) Corey S. Nakatani 124 Richard Baltas - 7 7Catch a Flight (ARG) Flavien Prat 124 Richard E. Mandella - 8 8Hoppertunity (KY) Martin Garcia 124 Bob Baffert - 9 9Beholder (KY) Gary L. Stevens 119 Richard E. Mandella - 10 10Midnight Storm (KY) Tyler Baze 124 Philip D'Amato -
Del Mar, Saturday, August 22, 2015, Race 9