Weekend Recap: Beholder is Amazing

Weekend Recap: Beholder is Amazing

© Benoit Photo

Beholder could not have been more impressive while winning the 2015 Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita - © BENOIT PHOTO
Beholder could not have been more impressive while winning the 2015 Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita – © BENOIT PHOTO

During her long career, which has spanned four seasons of success at the highest levels of the sport, Beholder has won many races with impressive ease. But on Saturday, she took her domination to a whole new level with an unbelievably easy victory in the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita.

In all honesty, it’s rare to see a horse win a race as easily as Beholder won the Zenyatta. After racing wide throughout and moving up to challenge for the lead on the far turn, Beholder took command under absolutely no urging from Gary Stevens and soon drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. It was amazing to behold (play on words intended), because Beholder never seemed to get out of first gear–she seemed to just maintain one speed throughout the race and never even accelerate. Her Beyer speed figure was a modest 99, and her margin of victory wasn’t stunning, but she probably could have won by ten or twelve lengths if asked at the top of the stretch, that’s how much she seemed to have in reserve.

Equally amazing is that Beholder seems to be just now reaching the best form of her career, a scary thought for her rivals given that she was the Eclipse champion 2yo filly of 2012 and the champion 3yo filly of 2013. She’s already won two Breeders’ Cup races–the 2012 Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and the 2013 Distaff (gr. I)–and if she can add a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) to her record, she could propel her career to a whole new level. No horse in history has ever won three different Breeders’ Cup races, and if Beholder accomplishes that feat, it’s possible that it would never be matched. Furthermore, a win in the Classic–over the likes of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and top older horses Honor Code and Tonalist–would quite possibly stamp her as the greatest filly or mare in the history of U.S. racing… and this is coming from a diehard Zenyatta fan!


Smooth Roller turned in a career-best effort to win the 2015 Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita - © BENOIT PHOTO
Smooth Roller turned in a career-best effort to win the 2015 Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita – © BENOIT PHOTO

But Beholder wasn’t the only impressive winner on Saturday at Santa Anita. In the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), Smooth Roller stamped himself as an up-and-coming contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a dominating victory. Making just the fourth start of his career, Smooth Roller showed good tactical speed tracking fractions of  :24.30, :48.64, 1:12.25, then pounced to the lead through a quick fourth quarter-mile in about :23 4/5 before drawing off to win by 5 1/4 lengths in the time of 1:48.08, good enough for a Beyer speed figure of 111. Granted, the pace was slow, but it’s important to note that Smooth Roller ran the final three furlongs of the race in about :35 4/5, a spectacular fraction for a dirt race that suggests Smooth Roller might be a very special horse. He doesn’t have the national reputation of horses like Beholder and American Pharoah, but I strongly believe that Smooth Roller could be a major player in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Best of all, Smooth Roller might be overlooked in the Classic at least in part because much of the post-Awesome Again focus was centered on Bayern, who tired to finish third after securing a very easy lead. That loss marked his fifth straight since scoring an upset victory in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and given that Bayern was unable to capitalize on perfect circumstances in the Awesome Again, his connections chose to retire him in the days after the race. It’s a shame that he was unable to re-find his best form in 2015, but it’s nice to see him retiring sound, and I wish him the best in retirement.


Songbird scoring a decisive victory in the 2015 Chandelier Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita - © BENOIT PHOTO
Songbird scoring a decisive victory in the 2015 Chandelier Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita – © BENOIT PHOTO

Another exciting performance on Saturday at Santa Anita came from the 2yo filly Songbird, who remained unbeaten in three starts with a gate-to-wire score in the Chandelier Stakes (gr. I). Making her two-turn debut, Songbird went straight to the lead while carving out speedy fractions of :23.14, :46.85, and 1:11.09 (faster fractions than those recorded in the Awesome Again and Zenyatta), then kicked clear under urging in the homestretch to defeat Land Over Sea by 4 1/2 lengths. In turn, Land Over Sea finished 9 3/4 lengths clear of the rest of the field, further demonstrating just how well Songbird ran.

With two grade I wins under her belt, Songbird has stamped herself as a clear favorite to win both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and the Eclipse award as champion of the division, especially now that Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) winner Rachel’s Valentina–Songbird’s main challenger for both titles–is expected to train up to the Breeders’ Cup.


Here are a few other thoughts and impressions from the major stakes races last Saturday…

– Nyquist showed plenty of determination to bring his unbeaten record to a perfect 4-for-4 in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita, but he showed some vulnerability in his two-turn debut. After tracking slow fractions (six furlongs in 1:12.47, he bid for the lead but was unable to kick clear of his rivals, running the fourth quarter-mile in a slow :25.89 while being challenged on the inside by Swipe. Nyquist held on gamely to prevail by three-quarters of a length, but the slow final time of 1:44.89 was substantially slower than Songbird’s time of 1:43.79 and translated to a Beyer speed figure of just 79. With his unbeaten record and two grade I wins, he’ll be among the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but I think others might be better-suited to the distance of the race.


– The filly and mare turf division in the U.S. is wide-open right now, and little clarity was added when Photo Call won the ten-furlong Rodeo Drive Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita. She got a perfect trip saving ground behind horses and took advantage to accelerate when clear and win by 2 1/4 lengths, but she was aided by the fact that heavily-favored Hard Not to Like–a multiple grade I winner this year–was caught wide throughout and couldn’t produce the needed stretch kick in the final furlong. At first glance, her eighth-place finish is very disappointing, but she was only beaten 2 1/4 lengths for second and could rebound with a better trip in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.


– With Beholder targeting the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Wedding Toast has become the new favorite for the Distaff after winning the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont with complete ease. Making her first start since winning the Ogden Phipps Stakes (gr. I) on June 6th, Wedding Toast got a very easy lead in the Beldame, but capitalized on that advantage by running her final three furlongs in :36.39 to win under a hand ride by nearly three lengths. However, given the way the race unfolded, Curalina ran a solid race to finish second after stumbling at the start and conceding the early advantage to Wedding Toast. She stayed on with determination to finish second by five lengths, and could be a factor in the Distaff if she gets more pace to set up her late run.


– Rock Fall brought his win streak to seven races with a game victory in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont, in which battled past Stallwalkin’ Dude in deep stretch and held off a late run from Salutos Amigos to win by a neck in a three-horse photo finish. The final time was a quick 1:08.70, which translated to a solid Beyer speed figure of 104, but once again, Rock Fall found himself in a race with a very modest pace for the distance (:22.23 and :45.21). He’s bound to face a much stiffer pace in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, where horses like Runhappy and Work All Week have shown the ability to set blazing fractions and still finish strongly, and it will be interesting to see how Rock Fall responds to the fast fractions. I think they could leave him vulnerable to an upset.


– I have long believed that Big Blue Kitten is better at 10-11 furlongs than twelve, but I think he just proved me wrong when he shattered the twelve-furlong course record at Belmont while winning the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. I). Taking advantage of a fast pace set by stablemate Shining Copper, Big Blue Kitten unleashed a huge burst of acceleration to blow past his stablemate in early stretch and seize a three-length lead passing the eighth pole, and while he slowing down at the finish, he still held on to win by three-quarters of a length over Slumber while stopping the clock in an epic 2:23.39 seconds, nearly a second faster than the previous course record. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, First off, the turf course was blazingly fast on Saturday at Belmont–allowance horses ran a mile in 1:32.47 earlier on the card–and it’s worth noting that Twilight Eclipse lost momentum at a critical moment when trapped behind the tiring Shining Copper, yet re-rallied impressively in deep stretch to finish third, just a head behind Slumber. Last year, Twilight Eclipse finished a strong third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I), and of the horses in the Joe Hirsch, he may be the one to watch coming out of this race.


Now it’s your turn! Who impressed you most in the big races last Saturday?

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin’s quest to become North America’s richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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