I am team Princess of Sylmar.
Two years ago, I was just starting to gravitate closer to horse racing. Through no real deliberation of my own, I landed on The Princess as my three-year-old filly of 2013. Maybe her long odds in the Kentucky Oaks explained it. Maybe her being Palace Malice’s stablemate explained it. Maybe it stemmed from Chicago being a bit closer to New York and Pennsylvania than to California. I cannot remember why I set upon following her, but I did.
This always made me look upon Beholder as the rival from out west.
Though I tried to temper my expectations in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) since it was such a late decision to send the Princess that way, I still resented Beholder a bit for winning that race — and for doing it so easily. Neither Beholder nor Princess of Sylmar won the Ogden Phipps (GI), but it gave me great joy to see the Princess hit the wire before Beholder did.
A year out from that, the distaff division looks a bit different. Princess of Sylmar never won again, and she is now in foal to Deep Impact. Her rival, however, remains in training.
Beholder trained up to the Distaff, but fell ill less than two weeks before the race, leaving the door wide open for Untapable. Her connections decided to run her at 5, and she came back this year in fits and starts. She won the Santa Lucia in April, but scratched from the Vanity (GI) in May due to illness. She returned in June to win the Adoration (GIII), and then dismantled the west coast distaff set in the Clement L. Hirsch (GI) on August 1.
Her comeback looked as on-track as it could have possibly been. She had done everything asked of her, and never did it look like Gary Stevens had to ask her for much. Yahilwa ran as big a race as could be expected from her in the Hirsch, and yet she never looked in range of anything but second best. Beholder won in hand.
For Beholder, staying healthy seemed a stiffer challenge than anyone in her division out west.
Her connections knew this as well as anyone.
After the Clement Hirsch, trainer Richard Mandella entertained the possibility of sending her out in the Pacific Classic (GI). Those words carried a bit more weight than from some trainers, not only in that Mandella tends toward caution, but also that he does not tend to talk big spots for his horses only to disappoint time after time. Still, I’d believe it when she entered. That would be the best evidence that it was Mandella, and not B. Wayne Hughes (the bombastic face of Beholder’s owner, Spendthrift Farm), who wanted to run her against males for the first time in her career.
The challenge was new on a few fronts. Not only would she have to face males, but she would have to go a mile and a quarter for the first time in her career. A pair of runners in the Pacific Classic, Bayern and Hard Aces, had already won Grade I races at the Classic distance on dirt. Beholder had won the nine-furlong Breeders’ Cup Distaff easily. However, sire Henny Hughes was a sprinter, and the average winning distance of his progeny sits at just 6.4 furlongs. Dam Leslie’s Lady has produced class horses, but not necessarily Classic horses. Her best offspring to date other than Beholder has been Into Mischief: a middle-distance runner whose progeny have done their best at middle distances as well.
Of course, this did not mean Beholder would never get a mile and a quarter. California Chrome’s pedigree did not scream Classic, either; look where he got. However, it meant Beholder would have to prove exceptional once again.
The new foes proved no obstacle. The distance proved no foe. Just as she had against the fillies, Beholder galloped home in hand. Already one of the best in training, she proved herself to be a horse for the ages.
And yet, I’m still Team Princess.
It will always be a Princess of Sylmar pin, not a Beholder pin, adorning the flap of my messenger bag. Princess of Sylmar will always have the Oaks, the Coaching Club, the Alabama, the Beldame.
Still, every so often that little voice in my head will pop up. At turns either sad or sour, it laments that Princess of Sylmar had to retire while Beholder remains on the track and achieves ever more dizzying heights. On its more charitable days, that voice misses the Princess on the track. On its more resentful days, it can’t help but wish it was not Beholder, but Princess of Sylmar, who had been blessed with the ability to hold and even improve her form with age.
Fortunately, the magic of the Pacific Classic held strongly enough to quiet that petty little voice for long enough to enjoy Beholder’s performance.