The 2016 Breeders' Cup Distaff

The original vision of the Breeders' Cup was to provide an event that would decide year end championships. That would inevitably mean popular horses would meet in a showdown on the track in front of millions to decide who came out on top.

If there was any race that epitomized that original vision, it was the Breeders' Cup Distaff of 2016.

The race was especially attractive for fans in Southern California because it featured three of the best female equines in the sport at the time. First, there was Stellar Wind, who was the previous year's Eclipse Award winner for Top 3 Year Old Filly. She had done well for herself at the races at 4, winning a pair of Grade I events (the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar and Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita), while finishing second in the Grade I Vanity. She had not raced much as a 4 year old, but she was performing well at the highest level of the sport.

Joining her was Beholder, who had long established herself as one of the best horses in California racing. By the time she entered the gate for the Distaff, the daughter of Henny Hughes was already a decorated horse. She had twice been an Eclipse Award winner thanks to her juvenile campaign and her 3 and 5 year old seasons, the first female to win Del Mar's Pacific Classic (doing so in 2015), and had two Breeders' Cup victories on her resume. The 2012 Juvenile was the first, and the 2013 Distaff was the other. Beholder was no stranger to big races, and with retirement expected after the 2016 Distaff, she had one more chance to shine.

There had been questions regarding Beholder during that autumn. Some had believed that at the age of six, the mare was not what she once was. The performances were not bad by any means. In five graded stakes in 2016, Beholder won two of them and was runner up in the other three. Despite the losses, there were only two horses that beat her at that point in her 2016 campaign. One was California Chrome (who later went on to Top Older Male and Horse of the Year honors at the Eclipse Awards) in the Pacific Classic in August. The other was Stellar Wind.

They had met three times in 2016, finishing first or second in each race. Beholder took the Vanity, while Stellar Wind defeated her in the Clement L. Hirsch and Zenyatta. The two were locked in a battle for the Older Mare championship, and how they fared in the Distaff would factor into it.

Also in the mix was a filly who had been absolutely brilliant from her debut in July of 2015. Since that day, no one had been able to defeat Songbird, who had Breeders' Cup success with her victory in the 2015 Juvenile Fillies. Already assured the Eclipse Award for 3 Year Old Filly thanks to a year that saw her win Grade I contests like the Santa Anita Oaks and the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama Stakes at Saratoga, winning the Distaff would cap a perfect year for the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee.