01/05/2017 6:20PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Beholder

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Barbara D. Livingston

Beholder carried a lot of history into 2016 – she had campaigned four years already, earned three championships, won nine Grade 1s including two Breeders’ Cups, and had won 15 of 20 starts while earning more than $4 million.

On the racetrack, what more could she accomplish?

That was the challenge for trainer Richard Mandella and jockey Gary Stevens after owner B. Wayne Hughes chose to race Beholder one final season in 2016, at age 6. Was it the right decision? What if she lost a step?

“She trained just as good, looked just as good, and I think she ran just as good,” Mandella said.

He was right, right, and right again.

Beholder’s final season was outstanding – six starts, three wins, three seconds, and a thrilling victory over previously undefeated Songbird in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff to cap a spectacular career for Beholder, an Eclipse Award finalist as 2016 champion older dirt female.

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

What a ride it was, complete with bumps and bruises.

Beholder often was tough to handle, though not with malice. The slightest sound would set her off; she knocked down her handlers more than one occasion.

“She’s not mean, she doesn’t want to hurt anybody,” Mandella said. “She’s just aggressive. That fight she had, it could very well have made the difference between her and a lot of other mares. By race day, she was always good.”

Most of the time, Beholder was better than good. Mandella, Stevens, and exercise rider Janeen Painter learned to cope with her idiosyncrasies, and Beholder launched her 2016 campaign May 8 at Santa Anita with an easy win in the Grade 3 Adoration Stakes. She was favored at 1-20.

One month later at Santa Anita facing 2015 champion 3-year-old filly Stellar Wind in the Grade 1 Vanity Mile, Beholder won by 1 1/2 lengths.

The wins were practically automatic. Then they stopped. Beholder finished second to Stellar Wind in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch and to California Chrome in the Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic, both at Del Mar. She was second again to Stellar Wind in the Grade 1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita. It was the first time Beholder had lost three straight.

Mandella accepts responsibility.

“I went a little too confident into that [first] race at Del Mar,” he said. “She’s a big eater, and I let her get a little too fat and happy. I think it told on her.”

He believes the initial loss at Del Mar set her back, and though she finished a respectable second in the Pacific Classic, she subsequently lost again to Stellar Wind in fall. In losing by a neck, Beholder earned the second-best Beyer Speed Figure of her career – a 110.

By the Breeders’ Cup, Beholder was training sensationally. She had returned to top form. There would be no excuses.

What transpired in the Santa Anita stretch was legendary. Beholder stalked the pace outside, in the clear. At the quarter pole, Stevens and Beholder ranged outside and took on Songbird.

Beholder outside, Songbird inside, the two went head and head to the finish. Like so many times before, Beholder was first to the wire, her 18th career win and a fitting climax to a five-year career.

“What a great ride it was,” Mandella said.

“She’s the best I’ve ever ridden,” Stevens said.

Beholder left Santa Anita in January and will become a broodmare at Hughes-owned Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Ky. Plans call for her to be bred to Uncle Mo.

Beholder, bred by Clarkland Farm, originally was purchased for $180,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale. She retires having earned $6,156,600 from 26 starts. She won 11 Grade 1s, including an unprecedented streak of five years with at least one Grade 1. She won three Breeders’ Cup races (2012 Juvenile Fillies, 2013 and 2016 Distaff).