With one sweeping, snatch-your-breath-away move on the far turn at Santa Anita Park on Aug. 22, everything changed.
The moment Beholder ran by reigning Breeders' Cup Classic winner Bayern like he was a pole in last month's Grade I Pacific Classic, she could no longer be limited in being defined as the best older runner of her sex. The two-time Eclipse Award winner became so much more when she hit the wire that day 81/4 lengths in front of her male counterparts.
Already a likely Hall of Famer, having achieved the historic feat of winning Grade I races at ages 2, 3, 4 and 5, Beholder's ability is now being heralded without gender barriers as she prepares for what is expected to be a customary hurdle Saturday in preparation for a showdown against all comers on Oct. 31.
"It was probably the most powerful performance of any race I've ridden in my career," Beholder's jockey, Gary Stevens, said of her Pacific Classic outing. "On that day, I don't believe there was a horse walking on any continent that could have beaten her."
In her final prep race before her expected run in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland, Beholder is cutting the boys a break and going back to facing her own this weekend. The 5-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes looms as the overwhelming 2-to-5 morning line choice against eight other distaffers in Santa Anita's Grade I, $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes, a race in which she is also the two-time defending winner.
The 11⁄16-mile Zenyatta Stakes — named for the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic heroine — is one of eight Grade I races taking place between Santa Anita and Belmont Park on Saturday with Breeders' Cup contenders expected to emerge from every contest.
Among Beholder's eight career Grade I wins are two Breeders' Cup victories, the 2012 Juvenile Fillies and 2013 Distaff. After she destroyed her male competition in the Pacific Classic, owner B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm and trainer Richard Mandella decided that as long as she comes out of Saturday's showing all her usual beastmode signs, she will attempt to join Zenyatta as the only female runners to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"(Hughes) always felt like she was a really good filly but the Pacific Classic changed his perception of her and changed a lot of people's perception of her and put her in a new level," Spendthrift Farm general manager Ned Toffey said. "It (the Pacific Classic) was probably the best race of her life. As far as what we see following that up, all indications are great, but we see horses bounce all the time."
On form, Beholder could theoretically regress off her Pacific Classic win and still best her challengers this Saturday. Fellow Grade I winner and Zenyatta entrant Warren's Veneda was beaten by Beholder in both the Grade III Adoration Stakes at Santa Anita in June and the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar on Aug. 1.
My Sweet Addiction, winner of the Grade I Vanity Stakes three starts back on May 9, was also no match for Beholder in her most recent out finishing fourth in the Clement L. Hirsch
"It's a Grade I stakes, you can't take anything for granted," Toffey said. "Hopefully, it ends up not being too tough a race on her and sets her up perfectly for the Classic. You know, you just got to keep clearing hurdles and if everything goes right on the way up, that's where we'll be."
And if there is added pressure given the level of expectations Beholder has set for herself, the most important member of the equation is completely unaware of such.
"The nice thing is she does a pretty good job of taking care of those things for us," Toffey laughed.
The Super Saturday lineup on both coasts is as follows:
■ Grade I, $400,000 Beldame Stakes for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up going 11⁄8 miles. Wedding Toast is the 6-to-5 morning line favorite.
■ Grade I, $400,000 Vosburgh for 3-year-olds and up going 6 furlongs. A winner of six straight, including the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt last month, Rock Fall takes on six fellow sprinters.
■ Grade I, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for 3-year-olds and up going 11/2 miles on turf. Trainer Chad Brown sends out nearly half the field, saddling the trio of Big Blue Kitten, Slumber and Shining Copper, who have combined to win nearly $3.8 million in purse earnings.
■ Grade I, $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes for fillies and mares going 11⁄16 miles. Beholder seeks to defend her title in the race for a record third time.
■ Grade I, $300,000 Awesome Again for 3-year-olds and up going 11⁄8 miles. Winless in four starts since taking last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, Bayern looms as the speed in a field of eight.
■ Grade I, $300,000 FrontRunner for 2-year-olds going 11⁄16 miles. Undefeated Nyquist tries two turns for the first time in a field of eight.
■ Grade I, $300,000 Rodeo Drive for fillies and mares entered going 11/4 miles on turf. Hard Not to Like seeks her third straight Grade I win in a field of 11.
■ Grade I, $300,000 Chandelier for 2-year-old fillies going 11⁄16 miles. Songbird, will be seeking her third win in a row among a field of nine.