Beholder set the Pacific Classic standard at Del Mar

When you look back at the 2015 Pacific Classic, it’s difficult to determine who was at their best that August afternoon at Del Mar – Beholder, jockey Gary Stevens or track announcer Trevor Denman.

Doesn’t really matter though, because all three were in vintage form.

Beholder was one of the most consistent race horses – male or female – we’ll ever see. She won 18 times in 26 starts, and she finished second six times in the races when she didn’t find the winner’s circle.

Look up the word “consistent” in the dictionary, and you’ll find Beholder’s picture.

Stevens?

What can you say about Gary Stevens that hasn’t already been said or written? And Stevens, who now is busy wearing his analyst’s hat on television in addition to testing the waters as a thoroughbred owner, was as great as Beholder that day. Man and horse teamed up for a vintage performance.

It was all summed up perfectly by Denman, who gave one of the great calls of his distinguished career, right up to the end when he told the 20,424 on-track patrons that “Beholder and Gary Stevens didn’t win it, they romped in the Pacific Classic.”

Go watch a replay of the race, and you won’t find many others where a horse made the type of move around the far turn that Beholder did that day. She left nine male rivals in her wake, becoming the only female to win Del Mar’s signature race.

The official margin was 8 1/4 lengths, just a quarter of a length off Game On Dude’s record 8 1/2-length rout in 2013. Beholder was sent off as the 2-1 favorite, but the way she ran, the ease in which she put away some good horses, she performed like a 1-9 shot.

Stevens still marvels at the performance.

“The move she made around the far turn was something I had never experienced in my career,” the 57-year-old Hall of Famer said in a text message. “She was phenomenal that day.”

Better than the following year, when her and Songbird staged a Breeders’ Cup Distaff for the ages with Beholder coming up a nostril better?

“They were two different types of races,” Stevens said. “The Pacific Classic was something to Behold (pun intended). No horse I rode could have beaten her on that particular day. IMHO.”

Strong words from a guy who won nine Triple Crown races, 11 Breeders’ Cup races and 126 Grade I stakes overall. Overseas, he won the Japan Cup in 1991 and the Dubai World Cup in 1998. Some of his greatest mounts included Winning Colors, Silver Charm, Bertrando, Point Given and Rock Hard Ten.

And, of course, Beholder.

I can still recall that move around the turn. The two pacesetters, Bayern and Midnight Storm, were still running, but Beholder made it look like they were in quicksand. And the others behind them? They didn’t stand a chance.

“Here comes Beholder, and Beholder just breezing on by,” Denman told the fans. “Beholder strikes the front. Gary Stevens hasn’t moved. And Beholder’s opened up to lead by five. They turn for home in the Pacific Classic and it’s Beholder, Gary Stevens just shakes the reins at her and Beholder is opening up on them. Almost impossible to believe. She’s turned this into an exercise gallop. Beholder is absolutely poetry in motion.”

Denman has a knack for turning a special performance into something even more. Take his call of Zenyatta’s breathtaking victory in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. The description itself was as awesome as Zenyatta and Mike Smith that afternoon.

Saturday will mark the 30th Pacific Classic, bittersweet because there will be no spectators allowed because of the coronavirus. Just the owners, trainers, jockeys and other essential personnel on a day when Del Mar would normally be rocking.

Will wie see a performance similar to Beholder’s five years ago? Will we witness an upset to rival Dare And Go’s 39-1 shocker in 1996 when the great Cigar’s 16-race win streak came crashing down? Can Maximum Security, the even-money favorite on the morning line trained by Bob Baffert, match the dominant effort put forth by Game On Dude, another Baffert runner?

We’ll see, but one thing’s for certain. They’re still talking about Beholder’s masterpiece in 2015, and they will be for years to come.

Follow Art Wilson on Twitter at @Sham73

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