04/10/2015 6:08PM

Beholder dominates Santa Lucia Stakes

Benoit & Associates
Beholder, with Gary Stevens aboard, wins the Santa Lucia Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths Friday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Beholder, the two-time champion, was the 1-5 favorite to win Friday’s Santa Lucia Stakes at Santa Anita, a towering presence against four overmatched rivals.

Yet trainer Richard Mandella insisted after the race that he was nervous watching Beholder run for the first time since September in an attempt to win the ninth stakes of her career.

Talk about wasted energy.

Beholder ($2.60) had an ideal trip under jockey Gary Stevens to win the Santa Lucia at 1 1/16 miles by 3 3/4 lengths over Uzziel, who set the pace. The race was a trial for the $300,000 Vanity Stakes here May 9.

“I don’t think she could have looked better,” Mandella said in the winner’s circle. “You never know until you run them. Believe me, I was nervous. I worry all the time.”

His concerns were largely gone by the turn. Stevens had Beholder in second for the first half-mile, tracking Uzziel through a modest pace of 24.30 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.95 seconds through a half-mile.

Stevens moved Beholder alongside Uzziel with three furlongs remaining and to the front while racing two-wide midway on the turn. By the time Beholder reached the eighth pole, she led by three lengths.

“I wanted to get as nice a race as I could without squeezing too much out of her,” Stevens said. “She gives me so much confidence.”

Beholder was timed in 1:42.54. Uzziel, second in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes in February and fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes on March 14, was second, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Oscar Party, who was followed by Tiz Midnight and Backintheacademy.

Gusto Dolce, Melanistic. and Sky Mega were withdrawn Friday morning.

Beholder, who races for B. Wayne Hughes, has won 11 of 16 starts and earned $3,416,600. The Santa Lucia was Beholder’s first start since a win in the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes here last September. A 5-year-old mare by Henny Hughes, Beholder missed the Breeders’ Cup Distaff here last October after becoming ill about two weeks before the race.

Hughes had Beholder entered in an auction in Kentucky in November but reversed his plan and decided to campaign the mare in 2015. He attended Friday’s race. Beholder rejoined Mandella’s stable in January.

Hughes and Mandella have the goal of trying Beholder in the BC Distaff at Keeneland on Oct. 30 in an attempt to secure a third championship. Beholder was the champion 2-year-old filly of 2012 and champion 3-year-old filly of 2013, the year she won the BC Distaff at Santa Anita.

Friday’s race showed to Mandella that Beholder has returned to stakes-winning form.

“Just because you’re good, it doesn’t mean it will happen,” he said. “It’s a relief to get through this, and she is back.”