© 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!
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.
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.
– 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.
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