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Weekend Watch: 2016 Breeders' Cup Distaff

Profile Picture: Jeremy Balan

June 13th, 2020

With nearly every major sports league suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans around the world are yearning for a return to normalcy.

The sports we love will be back, but in the interim, as we wait out the virus that has turned our world upside down, it's important to stay connected to the games we love.

Our Weekend Watch feature touches on the most significant moments in sports history, and luckily for us in this modern age, many of them are viewable online, in their entirety.

2016 Breeders' Cup Distaff

During my four years as a full-time turf writer, this was my favorite race. It stands out so much that I can't think of a good second option.

Beholder was a beast, and this was her swan song.

Before the 2016 Distaff, she had won 17 of her 25 starts (10 in Grade 1 races, and two in Breeders' Cup events), but she came in off three straight second-place finishes — a pair of tight losses to fellow Distaff contender Stellar Wind and an encounter with the buzz saw known as California Chrome in the Pacific Classic (G1).

Songbird was one of two 3-year-olds in the field, and she was facing older horses for the first time, but she was undefeated and went off as the clear favorite (Beholder was third choice, and Stellar Wind was second).

But Songbird was also untested. Her average margin of victory in those 11 wins was 5 1/2 lengths, but even that doesn't tell the whole story, because she was never really asked to produce her best late in races. Jockey Mike Smith knew she was in no danger, so he most often just cruised to the wire geared down.

That changed on that Friday afternoon at Santa Anita.

Stellar Wind missed the break, which basically eliminated her from the race. Songbird set a a relatively easy pace, while Beholder tracked in third, but from the quarter pole to the wire, it was a match race  — Beholder on the outside, Songbird on the inside.

Songbird was finally asked for her best, and she delivered, but the veteran mare kept grinding away on the outside. The margin was a nose, in Beholder's favor, in one of the tightest photos you'll ever see that isn't a dead heat.

Songbird was magnificent in her starts leading up to the Distaff, but she earned my respect on that day more than any other. Trouncing overmatched filly competition is all well and good, but this time she faced an older, more mature mare and gave everything she had.

Beholder's jockey, Gary Stevens, called the final stages of the race a "street fight." Smith said he felt Beholder ran the best race of her life and that Songbird "made her reach down as deep as she has. In losing, I feel like we won."

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