Stevens Relishes Return to Breeders' Cup with Beholder

Special to the Breeders' Cup
It’s a question Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens has been asked hundreds of times regarding dozens of top contenders throughout his career – “What does it feel like to ride…” insert name of great horse here.

But leading into this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the 52-year-old rider dug deep for a layman’s description of his current superstar – champion Beholder, who on Oct. 31 will take on the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.

“It’s like I’m driving a Mack truck with the speed of a Porsche and the brain of a rocket scientist,” Stevens said Oct. 7, 11 days after riding the 5-year-old mare to a demolition of seven fillies and mares for trainer Richard Mandella in the Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita. “She’s super intelligent and that’s her biggest asset – not only her athleticism, but her intelligence level. She allows us to do things with her that you can’t do with normal horses.”

Gary Stevens and BeholderStevens said an example of Beholder’s intelligence can be seen in the way she responds to subtle cues from her rider.

“Each workout is devised by Richard wanting certain things,” he explained. “When you have a horse that cooperates with you, it’s so easy. It’s like I have a pen in my hand and I get to write a sentence, and that’s what I want her to do, and she does it.”

Stevens has been aboard Beholder for 10 of her 20 career starts, and for all of her five races in 2015. In the Aug. 22 Pacific Classic at Del Mar the two dusted the boys by 8 ¼ lengths when the 5-year-old mare was making her first start at the 1 ¼-mile distance. Dialing back to 1 1/16 miles for the Zenyatta, Stevens geared Beholder down so dramatically in the final furlong that she practically cantered under the wire – 3 ¼ easy lengths in front of My Sweet Addiction.

“The filly that was second, not to add insult to injury, but she was a non-issue,” Stevens said. “At the three-eighths pole, the race was done. It was supposed to be easy; we were hoping for something like that. Richard basically told me, ‘We don’t need anything difficult, please don’t show her off.’ But she still got shown off, just in a different way than the Pacific Classic.

“She seems to know when something big is coming, and she knew the other day it was something getting her ready for something bigger.”

Although Beholder is already a two-time Breeders’ Cup winner for Spendthrift Farm – she took the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and won the Longines Distaff in 2013 – the Classic will be her tallest task to date as she takes on Triple Crown-winning champion American Pharoah.

“As far as American Pharoah is concerned, I respect him, but I’m not afraid of him,” Stevens said. “We respect everybody we’re racing against, but if we didn’t think we could win this race, we would be going in the Distaff.”

The jockey said Beholder is coming into the Classic a fresh horse with just five starts, all resulting in wins, under her belt this year. She is expected to breeze twice at Santa Anita and once at Keeneland before the Classic, and is slated to arrive in Lexington Oct. 19.

“She’s fairly lightly raced for a 5-year-old, and believe it or not, she’s improved with every race this year,” Stevens remarked. “Richard has known what he’s had – not to the level she’s at right now, nobody can imagine that – but Richard’s a pretty conservative guy and for him to have made a decision to go to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, that speaks volumes. That’s not a move Richard Mandella makes.”

Stevens will relish the opportunity to return to the World Championships. The winner of 10 Breeders' Cup races, including the 2013 Classic aboard Mucho Macho Man, he underwent knee replacement surgery last July 25 and had just returned to the saddle during the 2014 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

“To be honest, I’m proud that I worked hard enough to get the chance, and I’m very grateful to get the opportunity to come back with Beholder,” he said. “She came up at a great time in my career and in my life. I feel like I’m riding at a level now that I’ve probably never ridden at, because I’m not in any pain. This is probably the first time in close to 20 years that my knees have not bothered me. I have other aches and pains that a 52-year-old athlete has, but the knees are not in the equation.

“I’m ready, I’m prepared, and I wish the race was next week.”

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