01/06/2016 1:16PM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Beholder

Emily Shields

A dazzling summertime victory in the Pacific Classic highlighted an unbeaten season for Beholder, a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the outstanding older filly or mare of 2015. It’s a new category for the two-time champion – Beholder won Eclipse Awards as the top 2-year-old filly of 2012 and the top 3-year-old filly of 2013.

In 2015, Beholder went 5 for 5 and won three Grade 1 races, including the year’s top performance by a filly or mare, a 114 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar by more than eight lengths. The only horse to run faster all year was American Pharoah.

Richard Mandella trains Beholder for owner B. Wayne Hughes, who purchased the mare who was bred in Kentucky by Clarkland Farm for $180,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale. Gary Stevens was her rider all season, and he was advised by Mandella in early races to “not overdo it, to save a little something.” Mandella had an ambitious plan. He needed a fresh horse.

:: 2015 Eclipse Awards: Finalist profiles

“I wanted to do something a little bigger,” Mandella said. “The timing was just right for Del Mar.” Beholder’s first start of 2015 was a formality. Odds-on in the restricted Santa Lucia Stakes on April 10 at Santa Anita, Beholder won clear. But her campaign immediately stalled.

Entered May 9 at Santa Anita in a race that was intended as a prep for a $1 million race in New York, Beholder spiked a fever and scratched. No prep, no ship. Beholder stayed home, recovered, and returned June 13 in the Grade 3 Adoration at Santa Anita. It was easy money. She won ridden out.

Mandella turned up the heat leading into the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch on Aug. 1 at Del Mar. “I put a little more pressure on her, the first time I’d ever put that kind of pressure on her,” he said. “Her race shows it.” Beholder won by seven.

In the winner’s circle after the Hirsch, Mandella announced plans to run Beholder three weeks later in the Pacific Classic. It would be her first start at 1 1/4 miles and her first against colts and geldings. She was in the best form of her career.

Mandella said the Hirsch “did not take anything out of her. She actually gained [weight] from that race to the Classic.”

Beholder was favored in the Pacific Classic, raced comfortably in third, and took aim on the far turn. Stevens sat still, and in the blink of an eye, Beholder shot to the lead, opened up by eight, and won geared down. Wow. “I don’t think anyone expected that,” Mandella said. “It was something to watch. How many horses that you ever see race, do you see something like that? I can only remember two – Secretariat and Arazi.”

Beholder started once more, winning the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes in September at Santa Anita. It would be her final start of 2015. After shipping to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Beholder spiked a temperature, recovered, then bled in a routine gallop and was scratched.

Beholder, 15 for 20 in her career, is expected to return in 2016. It will be tough to top an undefeated season in which she scored the most dazzling performance of the year by a female.