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Beholder cruises to her 17th win in the Vanity Mile at Santa Anita

Beholder cruises to her 17th win in the Vanity Mile at Santa Anita
Gary Stevens guides Beholder to the victory at Santa Anita Park on June 4, 2016. (Benoit Photo)

Continuing to defy her age as well as the laws of probability, six-year-old Beholder registered win No. 17 in 22 career outings Saturday in the Grade 1 Vanity Mile.

The setting was Santa Anita Park, where the California-based mare has redefined home-track advantage, having faltered once in 14 starts.

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Beholder cakewalked by a misleading margin of 1 1/2 lengths better than runner-up Stellar Wind.

Triumphant jockey Gary Stevens, who has seen it all and done almost as much, interrupted a trackside interview and turned to the infield video screen when a race replay appeared.

"I want to relive this," he said.

Stevens silently watched himself yield the early lead to Lost Bus, settle in at the frontrunner's flank and surge ahead on the backstretch. Stevens' whip was unnecessary baggage. No goading, oral or otherwise, was required.

"I never chirped to her. Never popped her on the shoulder," he said of the colossal favorite, who rewarded backers with a net of 40 cents on a two-buck winning bet and a dime for place and show.

Bettors poured $791,272 into the show pool, 92.6% of the total, creating a minus amount of $160,051.

Stevens' task was simplified when Taris bailed. Her connections scratched the third wagering choice on the morning line, opting for the Triple Bend Stakes in three weeks. (The longshot All Star Bub also bowed out, reducing the field of Beholder's challengers to a more manageable four.)

Stevens did a double-take when he noticed the first quarter was completed in a dawdling 25 seconds, a partial byproduct of the pace-pushing Taris' absence.

As a result, Beholder had plenty in reserve for the stretch run — not that she needed to tap it.

"She is brilliant in her attitude and the way she takes everything in," Stevens said.

The Vanity, which has long been conducted at 1 1/8th miles, was compressed for this version. Thus was Beholder compelled to negotiate her first race as short as a mile in nearly three years. But push-button speed, as Stevens describes it, shapes her as a threat at any distance.

Stevens first climbed aboard Beholder three years ago at the back end of what he terms her nasty phase. Trainer Richard Mandella tamed the rowdy filly and, with the blessing of owner B. Wayne Hughes, has spaced out her workload to assure longevity.

"Richard knows her like he knows his kids," Stevens said.

Still, Mandella makes no assumptions with the outcomes of Beholder's high-level races. "Winning a Grade 1 like this," he said, "is surprising."

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That Beholder has not needed GPS to find the Winner's Circle is less surprising to Mandella. Yet he admitted, "I didn't think it would last this long."

"Good horses come along, and there are a few great ones," he added. "But to be great and stay great, it really is special."

Stevens has mounted enough great thoroughbreds that he was welcomed into the sport's Hall of Fame 19 years ago. There is no hesitancy on identifying which one tops his hit list.

"She's the best thing I have ever ridden," he said, "or I ever will ride."

Health permitting, at least two more rides loom. Hughes indicated that Beholder's camp is aiming for the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, which she dominated a year ago by 8 1/4 lengths, on Aug. 20.

The next start — the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita — would rekindle less fond memories. A faceoff with American Pharoah in last year's event collapsed when Beholder was pulled out after bleeding in her throat was detected.

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