The 2015 Pacific Classic

From its inception in 1991, the Pacific Classic saw more than one popular horse become a winner of the event. First, there was fan favorite and local hero Best Pal taking the very first edition of the race. Fellow California-bred Bertrando was next two years later, and Free house joined the state bred equines in 1998.

Throughout the first twenty-four runnings, more than one noteworthy moment happened in Del Mar's biggest event. Going back to 1996, Dare and Go did the unthinkable, dispatching the brilliant Cigar to deliver arguably the most shocking moment in the history of both the race and the track. Ten years later, Lava Man, another California-bred, completed his sweep of the three biggest races in the Golden State, taking the Pacific Classic after winning the Big 'Cap and Hollywood Gold Cup earlier in the year. Then, there was Game On Dude, who matched Lava Man's achievement in 2013 by taking all three events.

Going into the 2015 renewal, one horse had a chance to do something never before seen in the Pacific Classic. She was a five year old filly who had recently won the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, and had done very well for herself in a few starts at the seaside. None of those races by the beach were anything like she was going to try, however.

By the time she was entered into the silver anniversary edition of the Pacific Classic, Beholder was already a decorated champion. A two-time Eclipse Award winner and two-time Breeders' Cup race winner, the daughter of Henny Hughes was a model racehorse. It was rare to see her lower than second in a Thoroughbred race, and more often than not, she was collecting the winner's share of the purse.

One rarity in the Pacific Classic was a female being in the lineup. Before Beholder, only four had started in the race. None of them cracked the top three. That presented Beholder with a chance to create yet another shining moment in her already illustrious career.

The twenty-fifth version of the Grade I, $1 million race drew ten horses to the track. One of them was Hard Aces, the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (Grade I) champion who counted multiple graded stakes placings among his accomplishments. Hoppertunity was a fellow Grade I winner (Clark Handicap) who regularly finished in the top three to that point in his career. Imperative won the Charles Town Classic (Grade II) the year before, and Bayern was the reigning Breeders' Cup Classic champion (Grade I). They had all found victories at the highest levels of racing, but so had Beholder. But, she had yet to do so against males. In fact, the Pacific Classic was the first time she faced the boys.

One of three scenarios would take place by the end of the 1 1/4 mile event: Either Beholder would win one of the biggest races of her career, still make history with a top three finish, or join the few females before her that were off the board when they started in the Pacific Classic.

Made the 5-2 morning line favorite, Beholder retained that status at post time. Her odds dropped to 2-1 when the betting concluded, with multiple horses not far behing on the tote board.

She started from post nine, and began well. Bayern went to the front to lead, a normal position for him on race day. Midnight Storm, who began from the far outside next to Beholder, ran straight into second position. Beholder and Gary Stevens took third place, but the two horses ahead of them began dueling up front. No one was taking Beholder on at the moment, so she and Stevens were able to see what the leaders were doing and concentrate on them.

The field was quite strung out by the time they reached the backstretch, and Bayern was setting fast fractions. First came 22.36, then 45.45. Midnight Storm was not letting him get away, staying to his right side. Beholder appeared relaxed as she kept the duo in her sights, still moving along in third place. Everyone else was battling in back of her, none of them making a move for the front yet. Bayern continued to show the way, clearing six furlongs in 1:09.98 as he continued his quick pace.

But, Beholder was coming.

She began catching up to Bayern and Midnight Storm as they ventured into the far turn. As Red Vine began making a move on her inside, Beholder all of a sudden exploded forward. She stormed past the leaders as if they were both standing still to the delightful roar of the fans watching in person (and surprising track announcer Trevor Denman). By the time she reached the top of the stretch, she was ahead of her closest pursuer by daylight. Beholder was very familiar with big stages in Thoroughbred racing, and knew how to perform on those stages.

That also went for the Pacific Classic.

Gary Stevens had not asked her for anything when she made the pass for the lead. Midnight Storm had nothing left, and Bayern began fading as well. Red Vine was making a bid, as was Hoppertunity, who was well known for coming from off the pace when in action. Beholder was the leader after a mile, her time being 1:35.12. She made the turn into the stretch well, if a little wide, but no one was catching her. The lead grew handily, and there was no doubt as to who would win once they reached the final furlong. None of the nine males in the field had anything for the brilliant mare.

Her stride in the waning seconds was pure perfection. She moved effortlessly with grace, beauty, and style. And on the afternoon of August 22, 2015, Beholder cemented her status in California racing history. She moved through the stretch unchallenged, coming to the wire 8 1/4 lengths ahead. Only Game On Dude boasted a higher margin of victory in the race, doing so two years earlier.

The final time of 1:59.77, though not a record, was among the fastest in the race during the previous twenty years. For Gary Stevens and trainer Richard Mandella, is was a familiar, yet very different, sight. They teamed up to win the Pacific Classic eighteen years earlier with Gentlemen. This marked the third time Stevens garnered victory in this crown jewel of California racing, and it marked the fourth for Mandella. And with all due respect to Gentlemen, this was something that produced an abundance of awe to everyone who watched it.

Beholder became the first female horse to win the Pacific Classic. Fittingly, it came in a landmark renewal of the race. Something historical deserved to happen as the marquee event turned twenty-five. And Beholder was a deserving winner.

She was a living legend, a champion, and now, she was the Queen of the biggest race by the beach.


Balan, Jeremy. "Beholder Tagged Favorite in Pacific Classic." 21 Aug 2015.

2019 Del Mar Media Guide, pg. 28.

Toc Admin. "Beholder Becomes First Female to Win Del Mar's Pacific Classic." 24 Aug 2015.

Wilson, Art. "27 facts about the Pacific Classic at Del Mar." 16 Aug 2018.

Entry added July 22, 2019 by AF.