This year marks the second official running of the Beholder Mile (GI) at Santa Anita, a race named for B. Wayne Hughes’ four-time Eclipse Award winner and fan favorite Beholder after her victory in the 2016 edition, when it was known as the Vanity Mile. This event is a holdover from Hollywood Park and is the spring’s feature for older fillies and mares with their eyes on the bigger races in the distaff division.
Santa Anita kept the Beholder Mile on its now-extended racing schedule partly because it’s a good stop on the calendar for the division, but also because of its rich history. Now contested at a flat mile, the distance varied from 1 1/16 miles to 1 ¼ miles over the years at Hollywood, because that track wasn’t able to run any eight-furlong races on the nine-furlong main track.
In addition to Hall of Famer Zenyatta, who won it three times from 2008 through 2010, champion Stellar Wind was victorious a year ago and joined a list of winners that includes Blind Luck, Azeri, Escena, Jewel Princess, Paseana, Bayakoa, Princess Rooney, Track Robbery, It’s In The Air, Gamely, Two Lea, Bewitch, Next Move and Busher. So, any of the six entered will look to add their names to a list of racing superstars.
What makes this year’s edition a standout is the matchup of three of the nation’s top distaffers in Unique Bella, Paradise Woods and Vale Dori — with graded winner Mopotism and former claimer-turned-graded-stakes-placed mare Munny Spunt, both from the Doug O’Neill barn, tossed in for good measure. Regardless, champion Unique Bella is the lady to beat in the day’s ninth race, which drew six total and is set to leave the gate at 4:53 p.m. PT.
The Southern California weather forecast is heating up. After a cool and wet start to the week in Arcadia, the sun is expected to be out on Saturday and the afternoon high is expected to reach into the upper 80s. Expect a fast track and firm course all day.
But for a bad break and a rough trip in the Apple Blosson Stakes at Oaklawn Park in April, Unique Bella would be perfect on the year in three starts. It’s always hard to take wins away from good horses like Unbridled Mo, who was the beneficiary of Unique Bella’s misfortune, but it’d be hard to find a soul who doesn’t sincerely believe Unique Bella’s runner-up finish wasn’t directly connected to her poor trip.
Overall, the Don Alberto-owned daughter of Tapit has the highest figures in all categories, has hot jockey Mike Smith in the saddle and has been handled expertly by Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer throughout her career. She’s won six of seven starts here at Santa Anita, has one win from one start at this distance and has a good post on the far outside, which will allow Smith to gauge the early pace scenario from the break to his inside, leaving him to decide whether to send her to the front or sit just off of the early speed. It really seems like a clean trip will be the deciding factor in getting Unique Bella back to the winner’s circle.
Vale Dori had an amazing 2017 and sat atop the California Distaff division with four graded stakes scores and two seconds, including one in this event a year ago. After another second behind Stellar Wind in the Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, the Argentine-bred daughter of Asiatic Boy spent nine months on the sidelines before returning a month ago to finish a very uncharacteristic fifth in the Adoration Stakes. It’s fair to say she needed the race and will be much fitter going this shorter distance, and she’s been training great, including a nice three-furlong bullet blowout in :35 4/5 on Friday morning.
Her best makes her dangerous for the upset, as she likes to put up big figures. Plus, she likes Santa Anita and is a winner at the distance, though she probably prefers a bit farther. Rafael Bejarano is back aboard and she’ll most certainly be part of the early pace scenario, as her speed is clearly her weapon.
Paradise Woods is a two-time Grade 1 winner over this Santa Anita main track and while she hasn’t won in three tries since taking the Zenyatta Stakes back in late September, she was an amazing third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) and second to Unique Bella in the La Brea on Dec. 26, before faltering and finishing fourth at 4-5 in the Santa Monica ten weeks ago. Her biggest drawback here is that her best races were when she was on the lead and controlling the pace. She has the ability to put up big numbers (her 108 Brisnet speed figure for her Breeders’ Cup performance is the race-high) and while this may be a tough task against the likes of Unique Bella and Vale Dori, the daughter of Union Rags is in the great hands of Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. Jockey Flavien Prat returns as well, which only helps.
La Force has been a solid allowance/optional claimer, who has had trouble when stepping up into graded company. This field isn’t any easier than the last, where she was fourth in the Adoration (but still in front of Vale Dori at the wire).
Mopotism is a Grade 2 winner who has her best luck against softer competition.
Munny Spunt is a former claimer who is in a bit deep here.