A Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff for the ages on paper played out in real time in the most dramatic and epic way.
With a three-wide move on the final turn, Beholder looked undefeated Songbird in the eye and the rest of the field essentially disappeared as the eyes of an entire sport locked on the two champions.
In a stretch run that will be remembered for ages, it was the older, more experienced champion that edged her 3-year-old opponent by the slimmest of margins at Santa Anita Park in what was Beholder’s final race.
“I’ve been in battles before, but never the length of the stretch,” winning jockey Gary Stevens said. “I mean, it was a full almost five-sixteenths — definitely a quarter of a mile of just a street fight."
Fox Hill Farms’ Songbird never relented in her first defeat. She was simply second-best on Friday. The official margin was a nose, but the win photo showed barely a whisker separating the top two. The final time was 1:49.22 for 1 1/8 miles.
Forever Unbridled finished third, 1 1/4 lengths back. Those facts will likely fade into history. Memories of the stretch battle will not.
“She ran incredible and I’m so proud of her,” said, Mike Smith, Songbird’s jockey. “The real Beholder showed up today. That was probably the best race she has run in her life. My filly made her reach down as deep as she has. In losing, I feel like we won. We got beat a short nose. It’s easy when you are winning, and you have to take it when you lose. Beholder is retiring, but my filly will get bigger and stronger next year as they all do when they get older. She’s a true champion.”
“She’s a champion and it took a champion to beat her,” added Songbird’s trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer.
Both Songbird and Beholder broke from the gate like consummate professionals, the best of the eight-horse group, but the filly kept on from the inside, while the 6-year-old mare eventually settled into fourth, three wide on the first turn.
“My mare came off the bridle and just got into the rhythm that she gets into when I work her out in the morning,” Stevens said of the Spendthrift Farm runner, who is trainer by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella. “It was basically that kind of mode for her and myself until about the five-sixteenths pole.”
The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Songbird did what she does best and cruised into her easy, effortless stride through a first quarter in :23.62 and a half-mile in :47.16. Three-quarters of a mile went in 1:11.14 and Beholder made her move on the turn with I’m a Chatterbox between the two champions. A multiple Grade 1 winner in her own right, I’m a Chatterbox was no match for the two champs Friday and faded.
The only horse to make up substantial ground was Forever Unbridled, who trailed the field early but rallied for third at 15-1. Stellar Wind, who defeated Beholder in their last two meetings, got left at the start and made mild gains, but came in a nonthreatening fourth.
“She hopped at the start and the race was over for us. She ran well,” said Stellar Wind’s jockey, Victor Espinoza.
I’m a Chatterbox, came in fifth, followed by Curalina and Land Over Sea. Beholder paid $8.60, $3.60, and $3 across the board. The Distaff was Mandella's ninth Breeders' Cup win, and all nine have come at Santa Anita Park.