Pharoah heads fantastic day; Beholder throws down gauntlet
By Dick Powell
The historic Travers Stakes (G1) will be run for the 146th time on Saturday and despite the naysayers, me included, Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) will be in the starting gate at 5:46 p.m. (ET). The race will be televised nationally on NBC and their coverage runs from 4-6 p.m. Ratings should be enormous.
There was a ton of information, pro and con, about whether we would see American Pharaoah for the Travers and it built to a crescendo before his final workout at Del Mar last Sunday. Originally, my feeling was he was not coming but gradually changed that to 60/40 he would come. After he worked seven furlongs in 1:23 on Sunday morning, it was certain that he would make the trip and owner Ahmad Zayat announced that American Pharoah would ship to Saratoga for the Travers Stakes.
He made it here on Wednesday and there will be a public viewing of his Friday morning gallop on the main track between 8:45 and 9 a.m. On Saturday, the Travers will be the highlight of a card that has five other Grade 1 stakes races. Right now, the weather looks perfect and if you are one of the lucky 50,000 “Guests” that have purchased seats or an admission pass, it should be a fantastic day.
When ZENYATTA (Street Cry) did her racing in Southern California, many of her stakes races were held after the last race was run on the East Coast. While she was winning race after race, many racing fans were having dinner and not watching her in real time.
Last Saturday, we had similar circumstances. The Alabama Stakes (G1) was run at 6:07 p.m. so many people, East and West Coast, were able to see EMBELLISH THE LACE (Super Saver) go gate to wire and pull off the 6-1 upset. By the time the Pacific Classic (G1) was run at Del Mar at 9:19 p.m. (ET), most of the East Coast viewers were busy having dinner or enjoying a summer evening. Too bad.
Just like with Zenyatta, when many fans, especially turf writers, did not watch her races in real time, they missed an even better performance this past Saturday night as BEHOLDER (Henny Hughes) just dominated the $1 million race for 3YOs and up going 10 furlongs on the dirt track at Del Mar.
Sent off at 2-1 odds against a modest field, there were some concerns about Beholder’s ability to get 10 furlongs so the odds were, in retrospect, very generous.
BAYERN (Offlee Wild) and MIDNIGHT STORM (Pioneerof the Nile) both gunned to the front and separated themselves from the field. Gary Stevens used Beholder’s natural speed to get away from the gate well then got her to settle in third place. The first quarter mile was run in 22.36 seconds and the half-mile was contested in 45.45 seconds. Beholder was about four lengths behind at that point with her first half-mile in 46.13 seconds.
They maintained their positions down the backstretch and entering the far turn, Bayern was clinging to a quarter-length lead over Midnight Storm through six furlongs in 1:09.98. Beholder, still running as easily as could be, inched to within two lengths of the leaders.
Going around the far turn, RED VINE (Candy Ride) pulled up inside of Beholder and without any noticeable signal from Stevens, Beholder took off like a shot around the far turn. In the blink of an eye, she inhaled the leaders and pulled away from everyone else. At the top of the stretch, the lead was three lengths but after that move, you wondered if she could go on for another quarter-mile.
Easier than you can say “American Pharoah in the Haskell,” Beholder kept drawing away without any urging and coasted home to an 8 ¼ length victory over stablemate CATCH A FLIGHT (Giant’s Causeway) in the amazing time of 1:59.77. She earned a career-best BRIS speed rating of 112 and answered every question about going 10 furlongs and/or handling males.
After the race, owner B. Wayne Hughes challenged American Pharoah to a match race. While I don’t think that will ever happen, Hughes might be holding a trump card. Her next race, now that she showed she can beat the boys, will most likely be the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita on September 26 going nine furlongs.
Now that American Pharoah’s connections have decided to run in the Travers Stakes, there will be nine weeks until the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). He will need a prep race in between and the most logical would have been the Awesome Again. That is, until Saturday night.
Hughes is staking out his claim. He will most certainly run Beholder in the Awesome Again and it is then up to American Pharoah’s connections to decide to either take her on or go to the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont in the fall when New York can often be rainy and ugly.
I’m not saying that American Pharoah can’t beat Beholder but facing her in a prep race is not the way to get him ready for the Classic. Going nine furlongs, she would be a handful on her home track. After the Pacific Classic was run, I went from 60/40 in favor of American Pharoah coming to Saratoga to 50/50. After the Travers, this could get real interesting since Hughes was not shy about touting his horse and he figures to have a lot of fun throwing down the gauntlet.