After the sport enjoyed its first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, it's almost impossible to imagine that the best is yet to come. But it could be. With her scintillating performance in the Pacific Classic Saturday, the mare Beholder proved that she can compete with any horse on any day. Even American Pharoah? Wouldn't it be fun to find out.
Trainer Dick Mandella and owner B. Wayne Hughes proved Saturday that they are a rare breed when it comes to modern-day horse racing. They could have a found another race for her somewhere against fillies where she would have been 1-10 and waltzed effortlessly around the track before crossing the wire in front. And it would have proved absolutely nothing.
Instead, they decided to give Beholder a chance to prove she is one of the greatest female runners of her era and threw her in the deep end of the pool.
"I wanted to give her a chance to do something special," Mandella said beforehand.
There was no American Pharoah in the $1 million Pacific Classic, but the field was a deep one. Though not at his best this year, Bayern won last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Hard Aces was coming off a win in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Catch a Flight, also trained by Mandella, had won three of his past four, all stakes.
To beat those nine males would have been an impressive feat by Beholder, but she did a lot more than that. To say her performance was dazzling doesn't do justice to the way she ran on Saturday. From third, she made an Arazi-esque move on the far turn to blow past the leaders and drew off to win by 8 1/4 lengths for Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens.
"The funny thing was [about her move on the far turn], is that I didn't do that," Stevens said. "She did. You could see her ears straight up. She was just going so easy. We went by Bayern like he was tied. Then when we straightened away, I pushed the button and she went on with it. I've never felt anything like that on a racetrack before."
If Hughes and Mandella decide to run Beholder in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, they might as well make the check out to them right now. The winner's share is a bit more than $1 million. As long as Beholder stays healthy, there's not a filly or mare out there than can come close to her.
The Beholder camp has every right to step back now and find an easy spot against fillies to warm up for the Breeders' Cup. You'll probably see her next in the Sept. 26 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita. It will be some time after that when Hughes and Mandella will have to make up their minds about which Breeders' Cup race the filly will go in, the Distaff or the $5 million Classic.
"Everything's possible," Mandella told the Daily Racing Form when asked about the Classic. "but I'm just gonna enjoy the hell out of this."
They'll have to decide if they want to go in the easy race, where Hughes would likely earn the easiest $1 million he's ever made. Or should they give Beholder a chance to pull off what would be one of the greatest victories in the sport's history, a filly beating a Triple Crown winner? (Not to mention the terrific older male Honor Code). Can she beat American Pharoah? It's not out of the question.
The answer should be obvious. By running in the Pacific Classic, Hughes and Mandella have already shown that they are sportsmen and care about the mare's legacy. And Hughes has zero reason to take money into account when making his decision. He's the founder and chairman of Public Storage and reportedly worth $2.2 billion.
Hughes needs to do what too few people do in this sport anymore. Just about everyone wants to find the easiest races with the richest purses available and duck anything remotely resembling a challenge. It's bad for the sport.
Hughes needs to do the right thing by horse racing, by the Breeders' Cup and by Beholder. To run her in the Classic against American Pharoah would set up one of the most dramatic showdowns ever in the sport. To run her in the Distaff would create a lot of yawns.