04/04/2013 1:55PM

Santa Anita Oaks: Beholder will be tough to catch


ARCADIA, Calif. – The list of leading contenders for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 3 is growing by the week.

Flashy wins by Midnight Lucky in the Sunland Park Oaks on March 24 and Dreaming of Julia in the Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 30 have expanded the list. On Saturday, reigning division champion Beholder can reaffirm her status at the top of the list in the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks.

Trainer Richard Mandella said earlier this week that he has kept tabs on Beholder’s competition, respects them, but is confident in his filly.

“The filly in Florida was awesome and the one in New Mexico looked good,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with Beholder.”

As to whether Beholder deserves to be the top-ranked 3-year-old filly in the nation going into the first weekend of April, Mandella is not concerned.

“That’s no interest to me,” he said.

He is more interested in her performance in the Santa Anita Oaks.

[SANTA ANITA DERBY: Get PPs, watch Saturday's full card live]

Beholder won her last start, a victory by 3 3/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes on March 2, leaving Mandella optimistic that she can win the third Grade 1 of her career in the Santa Anita Oaks, run over 1 1/16 miles. Last fall, Beholder clinched her 2-year-old female championship with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies here. She was second in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes over seven furlongs Jan.  21 and was later found to have a throat ulcer.

“I thought she looked like her old self [in the Las Virgenes], similar to the Breeders’ Cup race,” Mandella said.

Owned by Spendthrift Farm, Beholder will be a strong favorite in the Santa Anita Oaks, her first start over 1 1/16 miles since the BC Juvenile. Beholder starts from the outside in a field of six. She is likely to set the pace, a tactic that led to her win in the BC Juvenile Fillies and Las Virgenes Stakes.

Any filly that tries to keep pace with Beholder may not benefit in the end Saturday. In the Las Virgenes, Fiftyshadesofhay was within a length of Beholder in the first quarter-mile, but faded to finish a well-beaten second.

The winner of the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes over 1 1/16 miles here Jan. 26, Fiftyshadesofhay is trained by Bob Baffert, who also starts the maiden race winner Black Witch. Baffert has a fear of Beholder’s ability as a leader, but says the Santa Anita Oaks distance could work in favor of his fillies.

“At a mile and a sixteenth, we have a better chance, but when Beholder gets by herself she gets dangerous,” he said.

Fiftyshadesofhay is a filly who is “getting better and better,” Baffert said.

Could Be Trouble, seventh against males in the Echo Eddie Stakes for California-breds on March 30, and Iotapa, unbeaten in a maiden claimer and an optional claimer, will be longshots. Both are making their first starts around two turns.

Mandella also runs Spellbound, a Bernardini filly who has won her last two starts over a mile – a maiden race Jan. 4 and an allowance race Feb. 24. In both races, she stalked the pace.

“Spellbound is training well and is growing up,” Mandella said. “I would guess she couldn’t beat [Beholder], but when they’re improving you don’t know.”