09/26/2013 3:48PM

Santa Anita: Beholder must fend off Joyful Victory in Zenyatta


ARCADIA, Calif. – Although the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes is merely a prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, this year the prep offers almost as much appeal as the main event.

A deep field of fillies and mares race 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Santa Anita in the $250,000 Zenyatta. The race is expected to produce the BC Distaff second betting choice, assuming Royal Delta wins the Beldame Saturday and runs in the Distaff and not the BC Classic.

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Five of the eight starters in the Zenyatta have a realistic shot – shippers Joyful Victory, Authenticity and Flashy American, in addition to locals Include Me Out and 3-year-old Beholder. The three outsiders are Great Hot, Via Villaggio, and More Chocolate.

In a comment referring to Flashy American but that applies to the entire field, trainer Ken McPeek said, “It’s a Win-and-In, and if she is competitive with these, you give her a shot in the Breeders’ Cup. If not, you get clarity.”

Joyful Victory has won 3 of 4 starts this year, including the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita. Authenticity has placed twice in Grade 1’s, and also won two lesser graded stakes. Include Me Out is a Grade 1 winner. Flashy American has won 6 of her last 7 dirt routes.

The most intriguing entrant is Beholder, a 3-year-old filly with a mind of her own and a perfect record in Santa Anita routes, including the 2012 BC Juvenile Fillies and back-to-back Grade 1’s in the spring prior to finishing second in the Kentucky Oaks.

The Oaks was demanding for Beholder. She spooked from the Churchill Downs hoopla, dumped her rider in the post parade, and nearly fell over. Despite the misbehavior, she held a two-length lead in the stretch before she was collared by Princess of Sylmar.

[BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Win and You’re In schedule and results]

“There is an old saying that it takes a minute to learn a bad habit, and forever to break it,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “She has an odd twist – she tends to overreact. She takes a lot of schooling.”

Mandella brought her home and gave her four months off. Her return Sept. 1 at Del Mar resulted in an easy win in a slow-paced race at 1-10 odds. She earned a 78 Beyer that will not impress handicappers. For Mandella, it was the ideal comeback.

“Knowing I’d have to step up and face older fillies and mares, the best thing I could do was give her confidence,” he said. “I felt we did that.”

Gary Stevens rides Beholder, who will contest the pace with Joyful Victory. A six-time winner from 10 starts, Beholder has trained well at Santa Anita and figures as a legitimate front-end threat.

Joyful Victory was due to arrive in California on Thursday for another crack in the Zenyatta. Larry Jones trains the 5-year-old, runner-up in the race a year ago before skipping the Distaff (then called the Ladies’ Classic). Her Distaff participation this year depends on how she runs Saturday.

Authenticity, runner-up to Royal Delta last out at Saratoga, ships in from New York. Trainer Todd Pletcher said a two-turn Grade 1 at Santa Anita was preferential to facing Royal Delta in the Beldame.

Authenticity could get another crack at Royal Delta. Pletcher said, “I think if everything goes well and she shows that she likes Santa Anita,” she will run in the BC Distaff.

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Pletcher and jockey Martin Garcia won the Zenyatta a year ago with Love and Pride.

Include Me Out will try to rebound from an eighth-place finish on synthetic at Del Mar. Great Hot won a Grade 2 at Santa Anita in February. Via Villagio and More Chocolate will rally late.