LAS VIRGENES STAKES | PURSE: $250,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES | GRADE 1 | 1 MILE
Spendthrift Farm's Beholder proved to be fully recovered from a throat ulcer that was discovered after her runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez when wiring Saturday's Grade 1, $250,750 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita by 3 3/4 lengths under regular rider Garrett Gomez.
Despite missing by three parts of a length in her three-year-old bow on January 21, the wagering public didn't lose confidence in Beholder, sending her off the 4-5 favorite to return $3.60, $2.40 and $2.10.
"When you've got one this good it's just a relief to get the job done. You hope you don't mess it up," trainer Richard Mandella remarked.
Beholder jumped straight to the lead when the gates opened, setting splits of :23 3/5, :47 2/5 and 1:11 while tracked by Grade 3 Santa Ysable heroine Fiftyshadesofhay. While the latter came under a ride entering the turn, Beholder kept motoring without any encouragement from Gomez. He did get after the bay daughter of Henny Hughes some in the stretch, but she easily completed the one-mile, fast-track contest in 1:36.
"She's back!" Gomez enthused.
"The other day, the other race [Santa Ynez], I was really surprised when she didn't run as well as I thought she was going to. But, there was an explanation for it," he continued. "Richard didn't want to use that [throat ulcer] as the main excuse but there was a little question mark there from the performance. It wasn't a horrible performance, but it wasn't what we expected.
"She had been doing everything so superbly in the mornings; sitting off horses, doing whatever was asked, etc., that it was mind-boggling that she didn't kick for me when we turned for home. We came to find out that there was a little something there.
"It was a whole different feeling today," Gomez concluded. "She did everything beautiful, she traveled beautifully, when I asked her to quicken, she quickened, I couldn't have asked her to do anything better for me."
"She's very fast. To take her back and fight her wouldn't make any sense," Mandella said. "Sprinting, when they go a half [mile] in :43, it's easy. But she needed to be where she was. Everything she did today was great. She's a great filly. We'll enjoy this today, but plans are for her to run next in the Santa Anita Oaks [going 1 1/16 miles on April 6]."
Fiftyshadesofhay didn't disgrace herself with a game runner-up finish in the Las Virgenes. The Pulpit filly had 1 1/2 lengths to spare on Scarlet Strike in just her second try against graded rivals.
"I tried to go to the lead, but the favorite just had so much speed," said Rafael Bejarano, who piloted Fiftyshadesofhay. "I just tried to keep my position because I knew she was going to take off in the stretch. She's a nice horse, and I did the best I could.
"She was too fast. As soon as we got into the stretch, [Beholder] took off really fast. She showed a good kick -- my horse was still running, but it was not enough. It was a good second, no excuses."
Scarlet Strike finished in front of Fiftyshadesofhay when the duo ran in the grassy Blue Norther on New Year's Day, but was unable to catch her rival in either the Santa Ysabel or this one.
"I had a great trip. No excuses," stated Mike Smith, who was aboard Scarlet Strike. "I was hoping for a little more pace up front, but other than that, she ran extremely well."
Heir Kitty, who was fifth to Fiftyshadesofhay's eighth in the Blue Norther but second by 5 3/4 lengths in the Santa Ysabel, followed another three parts of a length back in fourth after a third-place run in the Sweet Life two weeks ago going about 6 1/2 furlongs on Santa Anita's downhill turf.
Completing the order under the wire were Speedinthruthecity, Ridingwiththedevil, Lady Asano and Renee's Titan, who upset Beholder when taking the Santa Ynez at 20-1.
Unlike her more recent contemporaries, Beholder earned an Eclipse Award as the 2012 champion two-year-old filly with a less than perfect record. The Mandella pupil finished a well-beaten fourth in her career debut at Hollywood Park last June before capturing a Del Mar maiden by 3 1/4 lengths one month later. She tried stakes rivals for the first time in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and just missed by a nose after leading throughout.
Mandella decided to give his bay filly a confidence builder, as well as a first try on dirt, when saddling her next out in an allowance at Santa Anita, and the move proved worthwhile when Beholder recorded a hand-ridden, 11-length victory. Speculation ran high that the Kentucky-bred miss would go in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint but her connections opted for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and the bay lass got the job done in gate-to-wire fashion while going 1 1/16 miles for the first time.
That was enough for Beholder to be named champion juvenile filly, and she was sent off the 1-5 favorite in her three-year-old bow in the 6 1/2-furlong Santa Ynez, but was never on her game and wound up second. Not long after, Beholder was diagnosed with a throat ulcer but appears to have fully recovered. She's now banked $1,395,000 in lifetime earnings and improved her scorecard to read 7-4-2-0.
Bred by Clarkland Farm, Beholder came to B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm as a $180,000 Keeneland September yearling. She is out of the stakes-winning Tricky Creek mare Leslie's Lady, making her a half-sister to Grade 1-scoring sire Into Mischief. This is the same female family as yet another Grade 1-winning stallion in Roanoke.