Beholder-Songbird duel conjures up a memory, produces happier ending

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

November 5th, 2016

When Beholder and Songbird crossed the wire at Santa Anita Friday afternoon, their noses separated only by inches, instead of having a celebratory thought I couldn't help but think back to a darker chapter in Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) history.

What crossed my mind then and there was: "Wish the Bayakoa-Go for Wand battle could have finished that well."

It was a strange sentiment, I know, and evidence that what happened 26 years ago still affects me and always will. I don't want to come across as negative and fatalistic, but there are some memories you can't help but conjure up when you're witnessing something so similar.

This more glorious Distaff will go down as one of the best ever. Beholder is a mare for the ages with an unprecedented four divisional championships to her credit, the most ever earned by a filly or mare. Songbird, who had the benefit of setting a moderate pace, nearly pulled it off in her first serious class test and showed true grit and determination. It's going to be a joy watching her progress further at four.

Forever Unbridled deserves immense kudos for a terrific third-place run, and she wasn't far off the top pair. Stellar Wind was the obvious disappointment. She broke slowly, settled well back off the modest tempo, and couldn't put in any kind of run. She had a great season, splitting her meetings with Beholder at two wins apiece, but the championship will rightly stay in Beholder's possession.

In a nutshell, the Distaff totally lived up to the hype.

*The minority that felt Dortmund was vulnerable in the Dirt Mile (G1) were proved right, but perhaps not for the reason they may have anticipated.

Coming under a hard drive approaching the quarter pole, Dortmund was quickly passed by Gun Runner and eventually faded to fourth as the 7-10 favorite. That finish position was a ludicrous result on paper, but was presumably the function of him tracking a length or so behind Runhappy through blistering splits of :22.45 and :45.37.

Dortmund had not been close to a pace that hot since he took the 2014 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), a race he won only narrowly. It's no wonder, then, he was ultimately out-finished by three rivals.

A horse with his positional speed was never going to be worse than second or third in the early stages of the Dirt Mile, and it simply worked against him that he was rated too close as Runhappy ripped through the first five furlongs before backing out.

Speaking of last year's champion male sprinter Runhappy, his presence in this race was hard to fathom after throwing a dud in the one-mile Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs in his comeback from a long layoff.

While a victory in Saturday's Sprint (G1) might have been a tall order as well given his limited campaigning this year, a title defense there would have made infinitely more sense.

Here's hoping his connections allow him to do what he does best in the future rather than chase a $12 million pipe dream in January, a desire they've previously expressed.

*The Juvenile Turf (G1) and Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) were both won by worthy New York-based horses that worked out better trips than their favored counterparts.

Juvenile Turf favorite Good Samaritan, in particular, steadied off heels and bore out badly entering the clubhouse turn. He recovered quickly enough entering the backside, but found himself too far back and in a wide position.

That he was able to turn in such a strong run for third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Oscar Performance, suggests he'll be a very good one next season, especially at longer distances and on more expansive courses than Santa Anita's.