Beholder seeks third Zenyatta score; Bayern looking for return to winner’s circle in Awesome Again

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Jen Caldwell

September 24th, 2015

Pacific Classic (G1) heroine and dual champion Beholder returns to face her own gender on Saturday in the $300,000 Zenyatta S. (G1) at Santa Anita Park, one of five stakes on the opening day card that will offer an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup via the “Win & You’re In” Challenge series.

Beholder is seeking her third straight win in the Zenyatta, and victory in the 1 1/16-mile contest would give the Richard Mandella trainee a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) starting gate.

The only problem is that everything points to the bay mare heading to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and a bid for Horse of the Year. Beholder already earned a guaranteed entry to that 10-furlong affair via her 8 1/4-length romp in the Pacific Classic on August 22 against nine rivals.

“We’ll look at the Classic. We could always change our mind and go in the Distaff, but it’s hard to resist a race like the Classic. Right now, our intention is to look at that race,” Mandella stated. “I’d like to see her win it (Horse of the Year), but I’m just trying to do the best I can.

“She’s as good as she could be,” the horseman added. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t think of running her. I don’t need to, but she acts like she needs to run.

“I was surprised with the ease in which she won the Pacific Classic, although I wouldn’t have run her if I didn’t think she had a good shot to win. I wouldn’t have exposed her to it if she had made me think otherwise.

“But the way she won, nobody could expect that. It was too good to be true.”

The talented five-year-old ran her 2015 mark to a perfect four-for-four in the Pacific Classic, and the Henny Hughes mare could easily continue that perfection on Saturday while facing eight rivals in the Zenyatta.

One of those lining up against Beholder is sophomore Big Book, who is trained by Tim Yakteen. The gray lass suffered her first loss from four starts when second in the Torrey Pines S. (G3) on August 30 behind Stellar Wind, who appears to be headed to the October 4 Spinster S. (G1) at Keeneland.

Big Book has already faced off against her elders, taking her maiden debut over a pair of four-year-old fillies and capturing a three-and-up allowance/optional claimer, both at Santa Anita Park. Prior to the Torrey Pines, she reverted to a three-year-old restricted contest while winning her stakes debut in the Fleet Treat S.

Also entered are My Sweet Addiction, winner of the Vanity S. (G1) in early May but no match for Beholder in the Clement L. Hirsch S. (G1) last out on August 1; Santa Margarita S. (G1) scorer Warren’s Veneda, unable to catch Beholder when second in the June 13 Adoration S. (G3); and recent Tranquility Lake S. heroine Wild in the Saddle, also well-beaten by Beholder in the Adoration.

If her connections do decide to enter Beholder in the Classic, she may face the winner of the $300,000 Awesome Again S. (G1), which will be run on the same program as the Zenyatta and offers a guaranteed spot in the Classic starting gate.

The nine-furlong Awesome Again drew a field of eight, including the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Bayern and Hoppertunity.

Bayern is actually the defending champion of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, taking last year’s edition by a nose, but has been unable to duplicate his successful 2014 campaign thus far this season. The dark bay ridgling hasn’t even been able to find the winner’s circle from four starts, with his closest placing being a third in the July 25 San Diego H. (G2) two back.

Bayern tried Beholder in the Pacific Classic and found himself beaten 22 1/2 lengths when ninth that day, but Baffert is hoping his four-year-old charge will regain the winning spark on Saturday.

“He’s a fast horse,” Baffert asserted. “He just has to get out there and go. This will have to be a big race for him. He needs to show he’s back.”

Hoppertunity also ran in the Pacific Classic last out, finishing fourth by 9 3/4 lengths. The bay colt preceded that with a much closer fourth in the San Diego and a pair of placings against Grade 1 competition just 14 days apart in June.

Hoppertunity closed out his sophomore campaign with a win in the Clark H. (G1) last November and opened 2015 with a nice score in the San Pasqual S. (G2). He, too, hopes to get back on the winning track in the Awesome Again.

Looking to derail both Bayern and Hoppertunity on Saturday is Hard Aces, who was sixth in the Pacific Classic after nosing out Hoppertunity to take the Gold Cup at Santa Anita S. (G1) in late June.

Beholder photo courtesy of Benoit Photos
Bayern photo courtesy of Bill Denver/Equi-Photo