History is against Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

October 18th, 2015

Beholder will be going for a history-making win when starting in the 32nd Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland on October 31.

If the Henny Hughes mare breaks from the gate, she’ll become just the sixth distaffer to even compete in the 1 1/4-mile contest.

Zenyatta already beat Beholder to the punch by becoming the first mare to win the Classic, but being the second to complete the feat is by no means a discredit.

In fact, considering Beholder will be facing the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, I’d say that would be an even bigger accomplishment than Zenyatta’s 2009 win.

It took some time for the distaffers to set their sights on the Classic, and the participation has been sporadic at best.

Triptych was the first to do so in just the third running of the Classic on November 1, 1986. Though bred in Kentucky, the dark bay was campaigned overseas and already boasted championship status as France’s top two-year-old filly in 1984. She would go on to be honored as the champion older mare in both France and England in 1986, and earned that same title one year later in those two countries as well as Ireland.

Unfortunately, whether it was the turf-to-dirt switch or going up against the boys, Triptych was unable to factor in the 1986 Classic and finished sixth.

It wasn’t until 1992 that another distaffer even attempted the Classic, but Jolypha reputed herself quite well with a third-place effort behind A.P. Indy and Pleasant Tap. The lightly raced Andre Fabre trainee brought a pair of Group 1 wins into the Classic, including a victory in the Prix de Diane Hermes (French Oaks), and was beaten by only 2 1/2 lengths.

Behind Jolypha were the likes of 1991 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Strike the Gold and 1992 Traver S. (G1) hero Thunder Rumble. Hers would be the best a distaffer did in the Classic until Zenyatta prevailed.

It took another 12 years before a mare took on the Classic task, but not even 2002 Horse of the Year and three-time champion Azeri could scale the hurdle. Instead, that multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire found herself suffering one of only three unplaced efforts during her 24-race career when fifth in the 2004 Classic.

Zenyatta finally showed up in 2009 to break the boys’ hold on the Classic, scoring by a length over fellow Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti. While it was a scintillating finish, Gio Ponti was a confirmed turf horse and they were competing over a synthetic track. In fact, it was just the second time the race had been conducted on an all-weather surface.

So does that imply Beholder winning the Classic would mean more than Zenyatta? Not at all.

It all comes down to the fans.

Zenyatta’s supporters would be up in arms if they thought anyone was trying to discredit the mare’s accomplishment. However, it also doesn’t take away that, should Beholder win, she would become the first mare to win the Classic on a dirt surface rather than the synthetic, something her followers will be quick to point out.

Zenyatta came back to just miss by a head in the 2010 Classic, and it should be noted she did so on the dirt at Churchill Downs. Since then, only fellow Horse of the Year Havre de Grace has attempted to tackle the Classic, resulting in a fourth-place effort in 2011.

In the end, whether or not Beholder wins on October 31 is irrelevant. Based on history, just running in the Classic is a major achievement.

Beholder photo courtesy of Benoit Photos