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Beholder Caps Brilliant Career With Narrow Distaff Victory

By Laura Pugh

Breeders Cup Friday

Beholder wins the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) over Songbird. Photo: Jim Safford

In a race billed as the “Meeting of Champions” – Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) – the champions within gave racing fans all had hoped for and more. After a standout career that included multiple grade 1 wins and three Eclipse Awards, Spendthrift Farms’ Beholder on late Friday afternoon had only nine furlongs in the stiffest test of her career left before calling it a career.

Accustomed to winning, Beholder’s three performances leading into the World Thoroughbred Championships all resulted in rare losses, so heading to the gate for the Distaff many had a feeling that the connections of the 6-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes had something left to prove and, despite much buzz and speculation, something left in her tank.

So under regular jockey Gary Stevens, Beholder broke sharply from the gate and easily assumed her preferred mid-pack position, allowing the heavily favored and previously undefeated fellow champion Songbird to assume the role of pacesetter. Songbird showed all the way through splits of :23 1/5, :47 and 1:11 flat for the first six furlongs, comfortably galloping on the lead as per her usual game plan.

Breeders Cup Friday

Beholder. Photo: Jim Safford

Around the far bend, Beholder began to make her move while widest of all and by the time the frontrunner hit the top of the stretch, Beholder had moved abreast of Songbird, setting the stage for the “confrontation of champions” as announcer Larry Culmous enthusiastically called for the stretch run.

The two champions engaged in an all-out slugfest down the stretch and for a brief moment it looked as though Beholder would easily put her younger rival away, but Songbird dug down deep to find more and came right back at Beholder. As the two came to the wire together and head bobs apart, it was Beholder who, after a lengthy examination of the photo finish, emerged the narrowest of winners, stopping the clock in 1:49 1/5 over Santa Anita’s fast main track.

Breeders Cup Friday

The connections of Beholder celebrate after the 6-year-old mare won the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) at Santa Anita Park.

As expected, the connection of both horses wore their emotions on their sleeve, following the results of the race.

“It’s probably the most emotional race of my career because she’s so special to me and it’s her last race,” winning jockey Gary Stevens admitted. “I just asked Mr. (B.Wayne) Hughes if he has an extra paddock for me next to her because I probably should be getting on the plane with her and walking out right now, but I’m not ready.

“She gave me absolutely everything. I have a new respect for Songbird even in defeat. Beholder, even in the past, has never given me everything like she gave me today.”

Breeders Cup Friday

Songbird suffered her first defeat by a nose in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) at Santa Anita Park. Photo: Jim Safford

Jockey Mike Smith, who was aboard the tough-luck runner-up, was equally proud of his filly after her valiant effort.

“She ran incredible,” Smith said. “The real Beholder showed up today. That was probably the best race she has run in her life. My filly made her reach down as deep as she has.”

Saturday’s thrilling Distaff triumph was not without tragedy, however, as Argentine-bred Corona Del Inca, had been vanned off the track after sustaining a condylar fracture to her right foreleg. It was later discovered that she had also fractured her sesamoid and pastern and was humanely euthanized.

Beholder will next be sent to Kentucky and her owner’s Spendthrift farm, where she will retire and begin her life as a broodmare. Songbird will continue to carry her torch in 2017.

In the end, the race seemed less of a confrontation of champions and more of a symbolic passing of the queen’s crown as Beholder exits the game with one last win, and Songbird assumes the crown moving into 2017.