Not many Grade 1 stakes open to both sexes are won by fillies or mares each year. In part, this is due to North America having a good program of racing restricted to fillies and mares. But in part, it is also due to the majority of top-tier colts being bigger, stronger, and faster.
Just don’t go telling that to Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and now Beholder.
Zenyatta famously won the Breeders’ Cup Classic against colts and came ever so close to doing it twice; Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward against the hapless males of her crop; and Beholder absolutely tow-roped her competition in the Pacific Classic on Aug. 22.
The crowd at Del Mar was not the only group cheering her home. Bred in Kentucky by the Clarkland Farm of Fred and Nancy Mitchell, Beholder is a product of one of Thoroughbred breeding’s best family farms, and Fred Mitchell said that for the Pacific Classic, “we all got together Saturday night to watch Beholder and watched the telecast of Beholder’s race at our nephew’s house. We were cheering so hard at the top of the stretch that you could have heard us at Rupp Arena [downtown Lexington], and nobody was cheering harder for her, even Mr. (B. Wayne) Hughes.”
Part of the excitement about Beholder’s success was that she was trying to do two things she had never done before. In addition to racing against colts, she had never run the 10-furlong distance of the Pacific Classic before, and some savvy handicappers were betting against Beholder because her sire Henny Hughes (by Hennessy) is generally an influence for speed.
With a winning time of 1:59.77, Beholder stayed the 10 furlongs as if she’d have appreciated 12. So it’s a fair guess that Henny Hughes isn’t the strongest influence in the mare’s makeup, and she is out of a broodmare, Leslie’s Lady, who has proven an outstanding influence in her time at stud.
In addition to champion Beholder, Leslie’s Lady has produced G1 winner Into Mischief (Harlan’s Holiday), who has become one of the more popular young sires in the Bluegrass, with runners like G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents, also now at stud at Spendthrift.
Into Mischief won half of his six starts, including the G1 Futurity at Hollywood Park, and retired to stand at the Spendthrift Farm of owner B. Wayne Hughes.
Before any of her half-brother’s stock had come to the races, Beholder went to the sales as a yearling and sold at the September sale in 2011 for $180,000 to Hughes, who would naturally be interested in a half-sister to his G1 winner and got an even more accomplished racehorse.
The future champion brought the second-highest price for a domestic yearling by Henny Hughes, who now stands in Japan at Yushun Stallion Station on the island of Hokkaido for a fee of 3 million yen (about $25,000).
With the escalation of Into Mischief’s profile as a leading young sire and with a pair of Eclipse Awards for Beholder, Leslie’s Lady has become a producer of yearlings who are highly sought after.
The mare’s colt by Curlin brought $300,000 in 2012, then her filly by Curlin brought $1.1 million from Bridlewood Farm last year at the Keeneland September sale.
Although a mishap has prevented the colt from racing, Fred Mitchell reported that Bridlewood’s George Isaacs said the 2-year-old Curlin filly, now named Leslie’s Harmony, “is training like a really nice horse.”
Leslie’s Lady had an Eskendereya filly in 2014, but unfortunately, it had to have surgery, colicked after coming back from the hospital, and had to be euthanized.
Mitchell is a farmer who raises horses, and he said philosophically: “It’s the horse business, and you take the good with the bad. You enjoy the good while you can.”
Beholder has been part of enjoying the good for several years. Even before she went to the races, Beholder was a source of satisfaction to Fred and Nancy, as well as to daughter Marty Buckner, who does a lot of work with the yearlings at Clarkland.
“When we started to prep the yearlings,” Fred Mitchell said, “Beholder was a star in the ring. She progressed really well, and I’ve never had a yearling handle herself so professionally.”
Having produced a pair of really good horses, Leslie’s Lady is a source of hope every time she foals. Mitchell said the mare “had a May foal this time and we didn’t breed her back because it was late. She has a really nice suckling colt by Scat Daddy. We went back to the Storm Cat line because it had worked before with both Into Mischief and Beholder.”
Breeding a filly as good as Beholder is a rare thing, but Mitchell said that “it’s something we work for, dream of, and don’t never expect to happen.”
And yet it did.