In my very first article on the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff for US Racing, I used the term “anticipation,” likening the race to the old pop/rock song of the same name, heard in the famous commercial showing Heinz ketchup oozing from a bottle at a painstakingly slow pace, hence building the anticipation for something great.
The 2016 Distaff didn’t really need any hype — it was going to be something to “behold” (excuse the pun) from the day pre-entries were taken.
The race did not disappoint in any way. In fact, one could argue it exceeded any expectations, lofty as they were. We witnessed an epic old-school battle, with two great horses laying all they had on the line. Like their respective Hall of Fame riders, they didn’t give an inch, either of them, and put on a horse race and stretch battle for the ages. Of course (and ever so fittingly), it came down to the smallest of margins.
From the beginning, I billed it as the crowning battle between the young, up-and-coming, undefeated and largely untested three-year-old filly Songbird, and the seasoned, multiple-champion six-year-old mare Beholder. I discussed the others, and gave them all their due, but I knew early on how this would play out.
There was no logical knock on Songbird: she was unbeaten and all her wins were easy and by open lengths — and there was a page full of them.
Many people thought, wrote and commented that Beholder had lost a step, was not the same and couldn’t even beat Stellar Wind, another contender in the race, who had two recent wins over Beholder this year.
I saw it differently and there is just something oh so special about being right in a horse race, but amplify that 1,000 times when it is a historic, epic race for the ages that will never be forgotten.
I pointed out that Beholder was being pointed for her grand finale by a master at such things, her trainer Richard Mandela. She was on the inside of Stellar Wind in those two losses, and she was not all-in, while Stellar Wind obviously was. Beholder historically runs better when she is on the outside. That was evident in her lifetime past performances.
Songbird drawing the rail was a huge advantage for her. It put her on the lead, saving ground, and possibly never knowing those were tougher horses than she ever entered the gate with behind her. Stellar Wind breaking poorly helped that cause, but it was just not enough.
Songbird took command early, saved ground, and was coaxed home under a tough and brilliant ride by Mike Smith, who did all any rider could do to help his filly. Beholder, racing on the outside from her preferred stalking position, engaged Songbird at the top of the stretch, and the race came down to just what I predicted: Would Songbird have enough and would Beholder have one more in her?
The answer to both questions was unequivocally yes, as evidenced by the photo finish won in a head bob — two great horses, two great jockeys, all heart, neither giving an inch, separated by less than an inch.
It doesn’t get any better, and these are the races that make our game the best! It was a privilege to cover this one for US Racing, and no words can do it justice. Just take a look. Beholder has not lost a step and Songbird is awesome!