An inside draw would’ve forced jockey Gary Stevens’ hand but Beholder received the perfect starting position, post 9, for Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar. That provides the speedy 5yo an excellent chance to defeat her nine male rivals and she's been installed as the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.

The 1 ¼-mile distance is the biggest question facing the earner of more than $3.6 million. A two-time champion, the bay mare is by Henny Hughes, a multiple Grade 1 winner at six furlongs who is out of a Meadowlake mare, and Beholder’s broodmare sire, Tricky Creek, is another sprint influence. But while Beholder was bred to favor shorter distances, she hasn’t fit conventions so far.

Her last start at nine furlongs, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), proved spine-tingling, a spectacular 4 ¼-length victory that netted Beholder a career-best 112 BRIS Speed rating. She drew outside in the six-horse field that afternoon, allowing Stevens to be a tracking third behind the other speed during the early stages and when he let Beholder run leaving the far turn, the race was quickly over.

The contrast between the Distaff and her other previous 1 1/8-mile start, the Kentucky Oaks (G1) where she was forced to contest the pace from an inside post and weakened late to finish second, illustrates the importance of receiving an outside post position Saturday.

Stevens doesn’t want to be dueling early with wire-to-wire Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Bayern (who drew post 3) and will let the front-runner go at the start, biding his time before asking for Beholder’s best.

It will be no surprise to see Beholder record her fifth consecutive win.

Following her seven-length score in the August 1 Clement L. Hirsch (G1) over the new Del Mar dirt track, I was skeptical of Beholder’s possible Pacific Classic participation. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella is easily labeled as conservative (he doesn’t like to run horses where they don’t belong) and already had Catch a Flight, who recorded his third graded stakes win in four starts when taking the July 25 San Diego (G2) at Del Mar, pointing for the Pacific Classic.

Catch a Flight will break from post 7 Saturday with new jockey Flavien Prat (Stevens was up in the last three starts) and “Papa” Mandella’s bullish nature surrounding Beholder is not easily discounted.

Bayern is theoretically a threat with his best, but he’s dropped three straight, including a disappointing third as the San Diego favorite in which he was out-finished by the non-stakes winning Appealing Tale in the stretch drive. Trainer Bob Baffert will also send out Hoppertunity, who has not met expectations following his outstanding Clark H. (G1) win last fall, losing four straight in advance of Saturday’s start.

Hard Aces deserves credit for his recent form, earning his first graded tally in the June 27 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), but let’s see if the confirmed closer can back up the upset performance in Del Mar’s centerpiece event.

Imperative, last seen finishing a non-threatening second at 31-1 in the April 18 Charles Town Classic (G2), will return off the bench in a difficult spot. Midnight Storm, fifth as the favorite in the grassy Eddie Read (G1) on July 18, will make a surprising switch from turf to dirt.

Rounding out the Pacific Classic field are Bailoutbobby, who exits a second in the July 24 Cougar II (G3) but will need to find form to challenge for a minor award at this level; Salvator Mile (G3) runner-up Red Vine, who will be tested for class and distance; and Midwest invader Class Leader, who looks overmatched based upon recent efforts.

Beholder photo courtesy of Benoit Photos