By an inch, Beholder went out a winner Friday after a thrilling stretch duel with Songbird in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
After matching strides the length of the stretch, Beholder ($8.60) got the head bob at the wire to hand Songbird her first defeat after 11 victories. The final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1 minute, 49.20 seconds.
Beholder, who also won the 2012 Juvenile Fillies and 2013 Distaff, is expected to retire with almost $4.7 million in earnings. Trained by Richard Mandella for B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm, the 6-year-old mare has 14 of her 18 victories at her home track at Santa Anita.
Two Hall of Fame jockeys aboard champions delivered the sort of Cup race fans anticipated. Riding Songbird, Mike Smith set a lively pace aboard the 3-year-old filly trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. The 2015 Juvenile Fillies champion, Songbird led all but the final two strides in her first test against older mares.
Moving Beholder even with Songbird on the far turn, Gary Stevens quickly engaged with Smith and Songbird, and it was a match race to the wire.
“She was very focused, very relaxed,” Stevens said. “When I squeezed Beholder, she gave it to me. She put Songbird away three times in the stretch, but (that filly) kept coming back. … But today, Beholder gave me everything she had in her veins.”
Smith’s consolation – Although he just missed in the Distaff, Smith added another Cup victory to his record Friday with his $25.80 upset aboard Tamarkuz in the $1 million Dirt Mile. That brings Smith’s Cup career total to 23. In that race, heavy favorite Dortmund, who had chased California Chrome for much of the year, faded to finish fourth.
Other Day 1 winners – Two New York-based grass specialists, New Money Honey ($15) in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and Oscar Performance ($15.20) in the Juvenile Turf, won the other Cup stakes Friday. Saturday’s program features nine Cup championship races, including the Classic at 5:35 p.m.