The Del Mar crowd let out a hopeful roar when 5-year-old mare Beholder blew by her male companions in the final turn of the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic, but even the most hopeful in attendance could not have imagined what was coming next.
The indefatigable Spendthrift Farm runner, with Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens aboard, toyed with the field of nine males, pulling away to win by 8-1/4 lengths in her first start against males and her first start at 1-1/4 miles. The two-time Eclipse Award winner is the first female to win the race.
It was the second-largest margin of victory since the Pacific Classic was first run in 1991. Only Game on Dude won by a wider margin -- 8-1/2 lengths in 2013.
"I've had a few good horses in the past, and I've always had a good time and enjoyed it, but she is the first horse that makes me feel lucky to be the owner," said B. Wayne Hughes, owner of Spendthrift Farm. "I've never had that feeling before. I think it's what you call pride."
Stevens did not give the 5-year-old daughter Henny Hughes a single crack of the whip and she was under a hand ride to the wire. Richard Mandella-trained stablemate Catch a Flight got up for second, and Red Vine was a length back in third.
"I've never felt emotion over a race like this," said Mandella, who won his fourth Pacific Classic and first since 2004 (Pleasantly Perfect). "When she made that move, it just took my breath away. I'm flabbergasted. I expected her to run well, otherwise I wouldn't have stuck my neck out like this, but I didn't expect her to beat up these colts like that."
Beholder sat third early, stalking the pace set by dueling early leaders Bayern and Midnight Storm, who ran fractions of :22.36 seconds, :45.45 seconds, and 1:09.98 through six furlongs. But Stevens and Beholder moved past in the turn like those two were standing still, hit a mile in 1:35.12 and the wire in 1:59.77.
As she crossed the wire, Stevens gave her a pat on the neck and let out a wail.
"I screamed louder than I've ever screamed," Stevens said. "It was out of jubilation. This mare, she makes me emotional."
Stevens said after the race that he didn't even ask Beholder when she made her electrifying move.
"She did all that on her own around the turn," Stevens said. "I did not move my hands. Her ears were pricked straight up like a morning workout I took a little peek (behind) and there was nobody coming. I knew she hadn't hit the afterburners yet, and I said, 'This is going to be fun.' "
Off as the 2-1 favorite, Beholder brought $6, $4.60, and $2.80 across the board. Catch a Flight delivered $6.80 and $4.20, and Red Vine paid $3.40 to show.
Bred in Kentucky by Clarkland Farm, Beholder now has a 14-3-0 record from 19 starts with more than $4.2 million in earnings.
Hoppertunity finished fourth, followed by Imperative, Hard Aces, Class Leader, Bailoutbobby, Bayern, and Midnight Storm to complete the order of finish.
Even the opposing jockeys expressed their awe.
"He ran good," Flavien Prat said of his mount, Catch a Flight. "A very good race for him. The filly -- she's just too much."
"I was in a good spot, right there with Beholder," Hoppertunity's jockey, Martin Garcia, said. "Then she took off. She's a freak, man -- a freak."
Even though the Pacific Classic winner earns an automatic spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Mandella would not indicate his preference for a Breeders' Cup run. Beholder also earned a place in the gate for the Breeders' Cup Distaff with her runaway win in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. But he didn't rule out a potential Classic attempt, either.
"Everything is possible, but I'm going to enjoy the hell out of this right now," Mandella said.
"And that's all you're getting," Stevens added, with a laugh.