Beholder the latest, and perhaps greatest, in a phenomenal era of distaffers
Distaffers accounted for three consecutive Horse of the Year titlists in the last decade, with Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Havre de Grace taking home the top prize in 2009-11, and we now have Beholder, who will be the likely second favorite in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.
Unbeaten this season, the 5-year-old mare will bring a six-race win streak into the Classic for trainer Richard Mandella, including a spectacular victory in the Pacific Classic where she defeated the best older males in California by nearly 10 lengths in an open gallop. The dual champion is a guaranteed future Hall of Famer, but Beholder will be put to the test in the Classic.
Standing in her way is American Pharaoh, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. And horses like Honor Code and Tonalist are no slouches.
Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Havre de Grace all beat males during stellar campaigns.
Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Woodward, with Macho Again and Bullsbay finishing second and third. Zenyatta captured the 2009 Classic, with turf specialist Gio Ponti in second and European-based longshot Twice Over third. Havre de Grace’s 2011 Woodward win came at the expense of runner-up Flat Out and third-placer Rule.
It’s a solid list of vanquished male horses but none come close in comparison to American Pharoah – Beholder will be facing deeper competition in the Classic than her counterparts.
At face value, nobody expects to see a distaffer defeat a Triple Crown winner. And with a victory, Beholder will be on hallowed ground -- one can make the case it will be the greatest season ever by a distaffer in U.S. racing.
There is a segment of Eclipse Award voters willing to name a MVP before the season is over, dismissing Beholder’s Horse of the Year candidacy despite the fact that the horses will settle the matter of supremacy on the track Saturday.
I’m keeping an open mind and it promises to be a lively Horse of the Year debate if Beholder continues her winning ways.
Beholder winning the Pacific Classic courtesy of Benoit Photos
Beholder schooling in the Keeneland paddock courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography