Beholder a serious repeat threat in Pacific Classic

Profile Picture: James Scully

August 18th, 2016

The late, great Bobby Frankel captured the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) a record six times, including back-to-back editions with Skimming (2000-01), a former claimer who recorded four of his five career stakes wins at Del Mar. When asked to explain Skimming’s affinity for the track after the 2001 Pacific Classic, the Hall of Fame trainer said: “It’s the footing, the turns, the short stretch. Whatever it is, I’m happy for him.”

Some horses move up significantly at Del Mar. And considering how well Beholder performed in last year’s Pacific Classic, it’s easy to label her as a horse for the course.

The post was key as Beholder broke from gate 9 in the 2015 Pacific Classic, settling five lengths off the pace in third as the speed hustled forward during the opening quarter-mile. Jockey Gary Stevens kept her in the clear while biding his time and Beholder offered a scintillating move on the far turn to seize control by the top of the stretch.

Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella didn’t simply hold Beholder’s form heading into last year’s Pacific Classic. He built toward the tour-de-force performance, using the Clement L Hirsch (G1) as a set-up. And based on BRIS Speed ratings, or any performance numbers for that matter, Beholder improved significantly upon the Hirsch, registering a 102 BRIS Speed before garnering a career-best 112 in the meet’s centerpiece event.

The three-time champion won by a record-setting 8 ¼-length margin in the Pacific Classic and her 112 BRIS Speed rating is the top number in the 2016 field.

Unlike last year, Beholder will enter the Pacific Classic off a loss, finishing second in the July 30 Clement Hirsch. And some observers will view the performance as a sign of decline considering she won the 2015 Hirsch by seven lengths.

I disagree.

For starters, Beholder ran faster in this year’s Hirsch, generating a 106 BRIS Speed rating after finishing a half-length second to 3-year-old filly champion Stellar Wind. The runner-up and third-placer from last year’s Hirsch, Yahilwa and Warren’s Veneda, wouldn’t have been in the same area code of Stellar Wind either.

And Beholder was forced to break from post 1 in a 5-horse Hirsch, winding up on the early lead by default as Stellar Wind had the tactical advantage of closely stalking her rival from the start.

Once a confirmed front-runner, Beholder now prefers to stalk the action if drawn favorably toward the outside like she was in last year’s Pacific Classic. She benefited as well from an outside draw in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), utilizing similar tactics to defeat favored Royal Delta and others.

Last September’s Zenyatta (G1) is another example as Beholder raced in fifth from post 8 before scoring easily by 3 ¼ lengths.

I could’ve discounted her chances from an inside post on Saturday but that didn’t happen as Beholder received an ideal spot in the 7-hole. That should allow Stevens to settle into a comfortable stalking trip once Dortmund flashes forward to seize the early advantage from post 9. California Chrome also figures to be hustling from post 1 in order to get off the rail by the first turn and the tactical advantage could go to the classy 6-year-old mare, who will be trying to become the fourth repeat winner in the race’s 26-year history.

She’ll need to keep moving forward to defeat quality rivals like California Chrome and Dortmund, and Beholder proved she was capable of such a progression last year. I expect another huge performance from her in the Pacific Classic.