Beholder not only brings her stellar record into the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I), she has a first-class team behind her. It begins with her Hall of Fame trainer, Richard Mandella, and extends to the rest of his barn.
Mandella made history at Santa Anita in 2003, when he won a record four Breeders' Cup races in one afternoon. Ruben Mercado rubbed Johar, who dead-heated for first in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) as part of that incredible day, and he now grooms Beholder.
Beholder's exercise rider, David Nuesch, wasn't working for Mandella at the time. He was finishing up his career as a jockey.
"I started in the late '80s in New York," said Nuesch. "I rode in California in 2003-04 and quit at the end of '05. I got tired fighting the weight. I won the Texas Mile (gr. III in 2004) on Kela for Mike Mitchell."
Mercado and Nuesch work closest with Beholder for Mandella.
"She is a little angel in the stall," said Mercado, with assistant trainer Angel Vega translating. "Outside, she is all business. We always expect the best from her."
Mercado took over as Beholder's groom a couple of months after she joined Mandella's barn as a 2-year-old last year. The daughter of Henny Hughes—Leslie's Lady, by Tricky Creek, began her career that summer at Betfair Hollywood Park and ended her 2012 season at Santa Anita with a length victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). She was voted an Eclipse Award as the champion 2-year-old.
Bred in Kentucky by Clarkland Farm, Beholder cost $180,000 at 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Owned by B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm LLC, Beholder earned Mandella his seventh Breeders' Cup race and the second for Mercado after Johar. The groom has taken care of several other major winners in the Mandella barn, including multiple grade I winner Sandpit, 1998 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Malek, and Setsuko, who twice finished second in the Santa Anita Handicap. Both of the horses who beat Setsuko--Game On Dude and Ron the Greek--are in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).
While the Classic looms as a top race, the Distaff may be even more competitive. Beholder joins five others, including champion Royal Delta, who won the race the past two years, and East Coast-based 3-year-olds Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches. Beholder has won four of six races this year, three of them grade I stakes, and she finished second twice. One of those came to Princess of Sylmar in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Beholder is thriving in her training. She turned in a seven-furlong work of 1:24 2/5 Oct. 22 and a half-mile in :49 1/5 Oct. 28.
"I just gave her a little breeze," said Mandella of the final move. "She already had her major work last week."
Nuesch, who also exercises some horses for trainer Matt Chew, began working for Mandella during the 2012 Del Mar season. He has been exercising Beholder almost from the beginning.
"She's kind of straightforward," said Nuesch. "She gets a reputation of being quirky, but she's not. She kind of likes it to be her idea and doesn't want to be told too much what to do. But she's pretty agreeable at the same time. She likes things to be settled and in a routine."
One routine Beholder has is heading to the winner's circle after her races, especially at Santa Anita. She has the home-field advantage, having won five of six starts at the track. Though she faces classy competition, she has a good chance of adding another Breeders' Cup win to Mandella's resume.