Breeders' Cup Classic hopes for champion Beholder are cautiously still on the table after a lung scan and blood work on the 5-year-old mare came back OK in the wake of her missing a day of training Tuesday because of a slightly elevated temperature.
Trainer Richard Mandella did not send Beholder to the track as planned once it was discovered the nine-time Grade I winner was running a slight fever. Mandella said his assistant notified him at around 6:15 a.m. that Beholder — who shipped to Keeneland from California on Monday in preparation for the Classic on Oct. 31 — had a temperature of 101.3 where her normal temperature is 100.3.
Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift Farm, which owns Beholder, said that a subsequent lung scan came back clean and that the initial blood work suggested traveling may indeed be the source of the fever.
"The blood work was good, (the white blood cell count) was only just a touch high but otherwise was pretty good," Toffey said. "Any blips in the blood work kind of indicated more shipping-type stress than infection. And the lungs were very clear. So far so good. She took a pretty good swipe at the guy trying to ultrasound her so she's feeling pretty comfortable.
"Sometimes these (fevers) are just a quick spike and that's the end of it and sometimes they kind of drag on. So we'll have to see if it comes back up. It is a great sign that she responded so well to medication."
Toffey said that Beholder's status is "very much hour-to-hour, day-to-day" but that a start in the $5 million Classic — and the much-anticipated showdown with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah — has not been ruled out.
"We'll just have to play it by ear," Toffey said. "First things first, hopefully the fever will stay down. One thing I think that is very clear is that whatever is going on we're very much on the front end of it.
"Hopefully it was just one of those deals where she spiked a fever and that's the end of it. Time is going to tell. But as far as a drop-dead date (for deciding on Breeders' Cup) it's a little too early to speculate."
Toffey said it was unlikely Beholder would go to the track Wednesday. He added that the antibiotics she has been treated with would not interfere with her racing next week should she recover.
Tuesday's development is an unfortunate case of déjà vu for Beholder's connections. Last Oct. 19, the two-time Eclipse Award winner was declared out of the 2014 Breeders' Cup Distaff when she spiked a fever and was found to have mild inflammation in her lungs which necessitated her being turned out for two months.
Hindsight has proven that illness to be a blessing in disguise as it also prevented the daughter of Henny Hughes from shipping to the 2014 Fasig-Tipton November sale where she was slated to be sold. The spirited bay mare was subsequently returned to training and has been in the best form of her life this season, winning all five starts including an 81/4-length triumph over males in the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 22.
In her most recent outing, the bay mare won the Grade I Zenyatta Stakes for the third consecutive year, winning by 31/4 lengths in what amounted to a paid workout.
"There is good and bad to everything," Mandella said Monday when discussing Beholder's illness of a year ago. "That was a bad situation. But it's horse racing. So you can't let something like that end your world. You have to expect things like that.
"The good news coming out of bad news is she wasn't sold and I've got her again this year."
Bred by Clarkland Farm, Beholder won the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and the 2013 Breeders' Cup Distaff, earning the Eclipse Award for divisional honors in each of those seasons. Should she start in the Classic, she would attempt to become the first horse ever to win three different Breeders' Cup races.
"We'll keep our fingers crossed," Toffey said. "But the initial testing was very good, very encouraging."
Beholder has won 15 of 20 career starts with earnings of $4,436,600.