Trainer Richard Mandella kept his sense of humor. Spendthrift Farm manager Ned Toffey kept perspective in the forefront.
Yet, none of it could really cushion the blow of having their champion mare Beholder knocked out of a potentially historic Breeders’ Cup run for a second straight year.
Spendthrift Farm’s two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder, the 3-to-1 second choice on the morning line for Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, was declared out her anticipated showdown against the likes of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah after an endoscopic examination performed following a routine gallop Thursday morning revealed she had bled slightly.
Beholder’s connections had been especially diligent in monitoring her after she spiked a slight fever on October 20, one day after she shipped from California to Kentucky.
Toffey said that a “touch of blood” was found in her scope following her five furlong breeze in 59.40 on Monday. The 5-year-old mare galloped without issue on the training track Thursday, but Mandella said a subsequent scope revealed “some irritated lungs that are vulnerable right now.”
“There was just a touch of blood the other day but we were delighted with the gallop this morning,” said Toffey, who manages Spendthrift Farm for owner B. Wayne Hughes. “Really, we kind of felt like the other day that the little bit of blood there was probably just residual from the fever and all of that. And, it’s never been part of her history. We were cautiously optimistic that we were going to be just fine but we were also going to take every precaution.
“Normally you wouldn’t even scope after a gallop. But that was part of why we did.”
Beholder, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and 2013 Distaff, was attempting to become the first horse to win three different Breeders’ Cup races – Goldikova won three straight editions of the Mile from 2008-1010 – and join Zenyatta as the only female runners to prevail in the Classic.
This marks the second straight year Beholder has had to miss the Breeders’ Cup due to ailment. The daughter of Henny Hughes had to bypass last year’s Distaff after spiking a fever about a week and a half out and was later found to have inflammation in her lungs which necessitated her being turned out for two months.
Toffey said, given that history, they have ultrasounded Beholder’s lungs a couple of times this week. He added, however, that bleeding had not been part of her history.
“We don’t think it’s serious at all other than we have some irritated tissue in her lungs that is making it a weak spot that is bleeding under pressure,” Mandella said. “She’s fine, but if I put her under pressure of a race, she would do some real damage to it and we couldn’t take that chance.”
Both the Spendthrift team and Mandella had previously said they hoped to bring Beholder back for a 6-year-old campaign as long she was healthy and willing. Even with this latest setback, that plan remains in place.
“We will fully investigate (the lung irritation) and we plan to run her next year if everything is good,” said Mandella, who has won eight Breeders’ Cup races in his Hall of Fame career but none outside of California. “I guess I’m destined to just be in Breeders’ Cups at Santa Anita.”
The loss of Beholder from the now 9-horse Classic field changes much of the race’s complexion as her easy, high cruising speed was capable of staying right with 4-to-5 morning-line choice American Pharoah.
Though his expected toughest foe is out of the way, Bob Baffert, trainer American Pharoah, took no joy in the misfortune of a fellow champion.
“That mare means to Richard Mandella what American Pharoah means to us,” Baffert said. “Anything can happen and we still have 48 hours. This is unfortunate, but that’s why we’re all on pins and needles. She was the horse to beat.”
Beholder was coming into the 1 1/4-miles Classic in as good form as she has ever boasted in a career bound for Hall of Fame induction. The bay mare stepped up to face males for the first time in the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 22 and destroyed that field by 8 1/4 lengths under mild urging from jockey Gary Stevens.
Her most recent start was another variation of a paid workout as Stevens had Beholder totally geared down during her 3 1/4 length victory in the Grade I Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita Park on September 26.
Bred by Clarkland Farm, Beholder has won 15 of 20 career starts including nine Grade I wins with earnings of $4,436,600. She was originally slated to be sold at last year’s Fasig-Tipton November sale before her illness prevented her from shipping and prompted Hughes to keep her in training.
Given the brilliance of her 2015 campaign – and the fact the 2016 Breeders’ Cup is at Beholder’s base of Santa Anita Park – her connections are hoping for another blessing in disguise.
“You know (Hughes) he’s been in this business for a long time and he’s had his share of bad news,” Toffey said. “He always handles it with class. He’s obviously disappointed but his intention is to keep her in training next year. We have an expression around here that when you have luck in this game, you don’t know at the time if it’s good luck or bad luck.
“The good news is we still have a really nice mare and our intention is this will just be a temporary setback.”
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.