01/08/2014 12:00AM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Beholder

photo by: Justin N. Lane

As 2013 began, the bar was already set high for Beholder. She had nailed down an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly with two memorable victories at Santa Anita – a preliminary allowance with a 108 Beyer Figure that was the season’s fastest juvenile performance of either sex (and second-fastest by a juvenile filly in 20 years), and a front-running triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies over previously unbeaten Executiveprivilege.

On Jan. 21, those lofty expectations were reflected by odds of 1-5 in the Santa Ynez. Beholder could only manage second, however, and shortly afterward was found to have a small throat ulcer.

“She probably had a pretty sore throat in the race and [we] didn’t even know it,” said trainer Richard Mandella, who also developed Beholder’s half-brother Into Mischief into a Grade 1 winner for owner B. Wayne Hughes, who purchased Beholder at Keeneland’s 2011 September sale.

Beholder responded to treatment and quickly got back on track by winning the meet’s premier events, the Las Virgenes and the Santa Anita Oaks, thus earning a trip to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks.

The Kentucky Oaks attracted an exceptionally deep and talented field, and it marked the first and only time the willful Beholder would race outside Southern California. As it turned out, she was her own worst enemy. After training all week in ear muffs, Beholder became fractious in the post parade and unseated jockey Garrett Gomez.

“She almost fell down with me in the post parade trying to get away from the pony,” Gomez said. “She turned herself sideways and stepped on herself and almost fell. Her butt was on the ground when I came off her. She ran beautiful. I just wish she wouldn’t have expended so much energy coming up to the gate.”

After being bumped at the start, Beholder raced closest to pacesetter – and subsequent Acorn winner – Midnight Lucky through brisk fractions. She surged to a clear lead approaching midstretch, and was run down in the final yards by Princess of Sylmar.

“The crowd’s hard to overcome with some of them, and that was our biggest obstacle, but she ran very good in spite of it,” said Mandella. “She came out of it fine, but she had a tough time with the excitement there, so I gave her a little rest. I’d put her through a pretty tough task to go to the Kentucky Oaks, knowing that it wouldn’t be easy for her mentally. She did the best she could, and I couldn’t have been prouder of her unless she’d have won the race. And she almost won.”

On Sept. 1, Beholder returned at Del Mar with an easy tune-up win in the Torrey Pines with new pilot Gary Stevens. That effort set her up nicely for a return to Grade 1 action against older rivals in the Zenyatta, and she won by a well-measured margin as Hughes celebrated his 80th birthday.

“Off the turn, she covers two lengths of what a normal stride is,” said Stevens. “I haven’t gotten close to the bottom of her yet.”

In the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Beholder turned what was billed as an epic showdown with two-time defending titlist Royal Delta and four-time Grade 1 winner Princess of Sylmar into a rout, stalking the pace and drawing away effortlessly by better than four lengths. In so doing, she became the first Juvenile Fillies winner to win the Distaff, as well as the first horse to win different Breeders’ Cup events.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have many good mares in my years of training,” said Mandella, “but this mare might have to be the best of all.”