With the temperature in the mid-90s on a Saturday afternoon at Santa Anita, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens wiped a wet cloth on the neck of two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder, then took out a black comb and started straightening out her mane. After all, the 5-year-old mare needed to look good on the way to the winner's circle.
It was such a certainty that Beholder would win the $300,000 Grade I Zenyatta Stakes that by the time she had cruised to a 3 1/4-length triumph over second-place My Sweet Addiction at odds of 1-9, Santa Anita was figuring out how much money it had lost. There was a $75,708.52 minus show pool and $4,750.12 minus place pool. Beholder returned $2.10 to win, place and show after finishing the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:42.83.
"I hate to say easy, but it really did look easy," Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said.
It was the sixth consecutive victory for Beholder and the third consecutive year she has won the Zenyatta Stakes, named after the 2010 horse of the year who won 19 of 20 races. Like Zenyatta, Beholder is expected to take on the boys, led by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, in the Oct. 31 Breeders' Cup Classic in Keeneland in her next start.
"We know it's going to be the toughest race of her life," Stevens said. "With heat, you always worry how much it's going to knock them out and I can tell you when I pulled her up, that's the first time she's ever pulled me back to the winner's circle. It's almost she knew she needed to get off the track when she was that fresh after the race."
There were five $300,000 Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" races Saturday, and California horse racing figures to be well represented next month in Kentucky.
Nyquist, an unbeaten 2-year-old colt trained by Doug O'Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, showed lots of fight in scoring a three-quarter length win over Swipe in an exciting stretch duel in the FrontRunner Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
"That stretch run was probably a treadmill test for the cardiologist," O'Neill said.
It was the first time around two turns for the son of Uncle Mo and his fourth consecutive win.
"I think the horse showed his gameness," owner Paul Reddam said. "It was more exciting than I wanted it to be."
Unbeaten Songbird won the Chandelier Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 4 1/2 lengths. Photo Call took the Rodeo Drive Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on the turf. Smooth Roller won the Awesome Again Stakes.