09/02/2013 12:42PM

Jay Hovdey: Stevens lets quirky fillies Beholder, She's a Tiger be the boss

Benoit & Associates
She's a Tiger, with Gary Stevens aboard, wins the Del Mar Debutante on Saturday for trainer Jeff Bonde.

It’s a dangerous place, inside the head of a talented Thoroughbred filly. There are twists and turns, flashing lights, hobgoblins popping out from dark corners screaming, “Run! Run! No, the other way!”

Gary Stevens spent time inside the heads of two very talented, highly combustible fillies over the Labor Day weekend and came away with the best possible results. On Saturday, he rode She’s a Tiger to full-blooded victory over the fast-closing Fascinating in the Del Mar Debutante, and on Sunday, he teamed for the first time with the champion Beholder to take the Torrey Pines Stakes in her first race since the Kentucky Oaks.

It was the Oaks in May that put Beholder on the national map even more than her win in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in her backyard at Santa Anita. On Oaks Day, as the field gathered behind the starting gate in front of the packed Churchill Downs stands, Beholder listened to one of those hobgoblins and abruptly dipped away from her pony. The filly sat down, and jockey Garrett Gomez hit the ground.

“I was right in front of her,” said Stevens, who rode longshot Silsita in the Oaks. “I heard ‘pow!’ and ‘unh!’ when Gomez hit the ground and looked around. I asked him what happened later, and he said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”

We’d ask Beholder, only she’s not talking. Gomez and the filly got off the deck that day to run a blinder, caught only in the last strides by Princess Sylmar to lose by a half-length. Since then, Princess Sylmar has ascended to an almost unassailable position atop the division, while back in California, trainer Richard Mandella took his time with Beholder.

On Sunday, bringing her back in the one-mile Torrey Pines, Mandella had Beholder fitted, as usual, with black earmuffs to mute the potential horrors of the short walk from his barn to the paddock. Those earmuffs hide the remnants of several self-inflicted, superficial wounds. Once in the paddock, she was held with her nose to the back wall of the saddling stall while Mandella stood guard, waiting for the valet to arrive with the tack.

For the most part, Beholder was on her best behavior, despite the presence of some well-dressed yahoos who gathered on the grass opposite her stall and felt that it was just fine to cheer and yell at the sight of a dachshund race, staged on the main track, being simultaneously televised loudly on the large paddock video board.

Setting aside the idea that dachshunds can race at all – it’s more of a scamper with a lot of veering – it’s curious that Del Mar management thought it was okay to disrupt the relative calm required for the saddling process with a circus act blared to the entire house.

“You never know what might set her off,” said David Neusch, the retired jockey who handles Beholder most mornings for Mandella. “What you would think would bother her, she might ignore, but she’ll throw a fit because of something you’d never expect. You just have to be ready.”

Stevens had worked Beholder several times, so it was hardly a surprise when she walked her beat in the Torrey Pines, winning by 2 3/4 lengths under heavy wraps.

“To tell you the truth, I was worried I didn’t let her do enough,” Stevens said in the jockeys’ room after the race. “But the way she worked for me last week, I knew she was dead fit. She went in 1:38 in company with an older horse, and I thought she went more like 1:41. At least that’s how it felt, she’s got such a beautiful, long stride.”

Stevens got the mount on Beholder when Gomez took time off through the first part of the Del Mar meet to deal with personal issues. Stevens got the mount on She’s a Tiger because he was available, after the Golden Gate-based Frank Alvarado rode her to a pair of wins and a second in the Sorrento Stakes.

Trainer Jeff Bonde changed not only the rider but fitted She’s a Tiger with blinkers as well. With Stevens and blinkers, she turned in a sizzling work five days before the Debutante.

“I told Jeff I hadn’t been on one like that, how she moved in the morning, since Serena’s Song,” Stevens said, summoning the memory of the Hall of Fame filly of the mid-1990s. “I was told she could be nasty in the starting gate. They’d schooled her a lot, and she’s got side pads in the gate so she can’t waller around. She did get a little nasty in the post parade, which I guess she’d done in the past, so I got her away from the grandstand and gave her a nice, long gallop. After that, she let out a nice, clean breath, and everything was okay.”

She’s a Tiger, by Tale of the Cat, blasted from the gate, ran the favored Awesome Baby into the ground, then held Fascinating safe to win by a half-length.

“Seven furlongs is a tough race on a filly like that,” Stevens said. “There’s no letting up. I think she’ll enjoy two turns more.”

Stevens likely will have dates with both of his new girls Sept. 28 at Santa Anita. She’s a Tiger would go in the Chandelier Stakes around two turns, while Beholder, having exhausted California’s 3-year-old filly opportunities, would need to face grown-ups in the Zenyatta Stakes. Their jockey will be ready for anything.

“The good ones I’ve ridden have all had those quirky traits,” Stevens said. “They can be that way, but that’s okay. I let them know they’re running the show, and it’s my job to get along with you, not the other way around. Basically, it’s ‘Yes, dear.’ ”