By Peter Lee
The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff was expected to be a showdown between Beholder, a three-time Eclipse Award winner who had won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and Songbird, the sensational 3-year-old filly who was unbeaten in 11 starts. Beholder was 6 years old and had lost three of her last five starts.that year. And they would both be challenged by Stellar Wind, a former champion 3-year-old filly who at 4 had beaten Beholder in two of those three starts this year.
The crowd of 45,763 at Santa Anita thought Songbird would remain unbeaten, making her the even-money favorite and Stellar Wind the second choice at 5-2. Beholder was third at 3-1.
But when the gates opened, Stellar Wind was left at the post and quickly tried to make up for her poor start. She was never really in contention after that, finishing a distant fourth. Songbird jumped to the early lead and then sat on it, with jockey Mike Smith putting her through slow fractions of 23.3 and 47.1 seconds for the quarter- and half-mile. At that pace, she would be around for the finish. Meanwhile, Beholder, with Gary Stevens aboard, stalked her patiently in third place about two lengths behind. I’m a Chatterbox lay between them in second.
They stayed that way around the far turn, with Beholder slowly eating up ground between her and Songbird. By the time they entered the stretch, Beholder had pulled to within a half-length of Songbird, and I’m a Chatterbox had given up the chase. The fight was on.
Forever Unbridled made a run at the two at the top of the stretch, and for a moment, it looked like it may turn into a three-horse race. But the filly seemed to run into a brick wall, not coming closer than one-and-a-half lengths of the two champions no matter how hard she tried.
Beholder was patient, despite the feet of track that was falling behind her each second. She crept to Songbird’s neck, then her head as both jockeys asked for everything from their horses.
Usually when two horses look each other in the eye, one acquiesces, letting the better, more dominant horse pass. But not this time. Neither would back down. Songbird held on for dear life for the last 100 yards, but Beholder caught her at the wire and the two finished with both heads bobbing together.
It was a photo finish, but track announcer Larry Collmus named Beholder the winner. A few moments later, a photo confirmed it: The mare had broken Songbird’s unbeaten streak by about one inch.
“I’ve been in battles before, but never the length of the stretch,” Gary Stevens said of the two. “It was definitely a quarter of a mile of just a street fight.”
Beholder retired after the victory with 18 wins and six seconds in 26 starts. She won four Horse of the Year titles. Songbird was the unanimous winner of the Eclipse Award for American Champion Three-Year-Old Filly in 2016. She raced three times in 2017, winning two before being forced to retire with an injury. Her record in 15 races was 13 wins and two seconds – one of them by an inch on one of the biggest stages in horse racing.
Photo: (Photo by Michael McInally/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup)