Thoroughbred racing has been spoiled in recent years with an abundance of exceptional female runners, each of whom has departed the track with credentials that hold a significant place in the sport's annals.
From Rachel Alexandra to Zenyatta, to Havre de Grace and Royal Delta, there has been no lag in the ascension of new queen soon as one steps off the throne.
The last two seasons have seen Spendthrift Farm's Beholder fend off some brilliant divisional challengers to stand as the champion over her fellow distaffers.
A freak injury and the progression of rivals have threatened her reign this season. What is not endangered is the fact the daughter of Henny Hughes has already put herself in the discussion with those deemed all-timers.
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Of the 10 combined Grade I races that will be held at Belmont and Santa Anita Park on Saturday, the latter's Grade I, $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes fittingly boasts the most accomplished runner who will go postward on either coast.
In what will be her first start since June 7, two-time Eclipse Award winner and two-time Breeders' Cup heroine Beholder sits as the 1-to-2 morning line favorite over five others as she attempts to defend her title in the 11⁄16-mile Zenyatta.
The only instances when five-time Grade I winner Beholder has been worse than second in 14 career starts to date came when she ran fourth in her maiden outing at Hollywood Park in June 2012, and when she notched the same placing during a gang busters edition of the Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park, won by her old rival Close Hatches.
The sting of that loss was literal for the bay filly. She emerged from the race with a deep gash in her left hind pastern, an injury that cost her about four weeks of training total as it heeled.
"It looked like it was mangled in a meat grinder," said Beholder's Hall of Fame trainer, Richard Mandella. "She had a flap of meat that was about two inches deep that went from the middle of her pastern up towards the top. It healed down very well until she worked three quarters at Del Mar, and coming home she was jumping and playing and hit it and knocked it loose. So we had to trim it away and put five stitches in it again just short of a month ago.
"But saying all that, it's healed up very well right now, and I think she's in very good shape."
In the times when the depth and quality of her peers made splitting hairs between the bunch a past time, Beholder has been masterful at delivering blows that resonate at the ideal moment.
Two years ago, the half sister to fellow Grade I winner Into Mischief wired the field in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita en route to being named that year's divisional champion.
When 2013 Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar arrived in California last November with 3-year-old honors seemingly hers for the taking in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, Beholder shut everyone down by rallying from just off the pace to post a sublime 41/4-length triumph — her fourth Grade I victory that year and an effort that helped her become the first filly since Hall of Famer Silverbulletday to earn the Eclipse Award at both two and three.
"It's a pretty strong hand isn't it," Spendthrift general manager Ned Toffey said of Beholder's achievements. "I'm biased of course but we sure think she is special and we try to remember that we need to be pretty appreciative to have a horse around like her.
"There are so many ways to evaluate these horses on their merit and we've seen some great, great fillies in Rachel and Zenyatta. You've got to put those up there. But you know, I sure don't think you can leave Beholder out of that discussion."
Last year's edition of the Zenyatta marked the first time Beholder had toppled older mares, flexing her speed in gate-to-wire fashion for a 11/4-length triumph.
If no one takes it to her early, running challengers into the ground is her preferred method of travel. As her Distaff win showed, however, there is more tractability to Beholder than her aggressive manner lets on.
"She's probably always been a little bit better rating and a little bit better mentally in a race than was the perception," Toffey said. "But she just has so much natural speed that if the others are going to give it to you, why not make them go out and react to what you are doing. But according to Richard, he has routinely trained her with a target, so she is very capable of sitting behind horses just as she did in the Breeders' Cup last year."
Beholder's only start prior to the Phipps this year was essentially a paid workout in the Santa Lucia Stakes at Santa Anita on April 20, winning by 51/4 lengths under jockey Gary Stevens, who currently rehabbing from knee surgery and thus is handing off the reins to fellow Hall of Famer Mike Smith for the Zenyatta.
Even if Beholder makes history with a second straight Distaff victory and third consecutive Breeders' Cup win, she won't be done delivering on the big stage. Citing head vs. heart, Spendthrift announced this week it would offer Beholder at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale on Nov. 3.
"We try to look at the farm as a business and we felt like her value is just so great, it felt like it was the thing to do," Toffey said. "She really is a special filly and these kind don't come around often. To part ways with her will obviously be very bittersweet. With luck, we'll have two more nice wins and go on from there."