On an early morning in late October, champion mare Beholder and her trainer Richard Mandella stood quietly in a saddling stall in the serene hush of Keeneland. Only a small group of onlookers were on hand as she schooled prior to her anticipated attempt at the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Mandella stood with her as her rider moved her from stall to stall, turning to the media present to say with a smile that he didn’t know which stall she’d start from so he was having her stand in all of them. His bond with Beholder was evident, and it felt like a privilege to witness. This is one reason mornings at the track can be so special. Details like that which get lost in the busy spectacle of the racing hours are easy to take in and absorb.
While Beholder did not start in the Classic, that moment lingered in my memory as a taste of what the first Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland still made it possible to see, especially before American Pharoah arrived and the crowds in the morning grew exponentially. It was also my most enduring memory of her until the morning Spendthrift hosted a chance to meet her in retirement four years after that day at Keeneland, which also marked my first opportunity to get to know her temperament and interact with her.
It was a serene drive in the early morning, down Iron Works Pike where trees formed a green tunnel overhead, echoed along the drive to the farm office once through the Spendthrift Farm gates. It did seem reminiscent, too, of that quiet morning when she schooled at Keeneland.
The visit began in the grand farm office, a former home, which now hosts offices and displays racing trophies, as most farm offices do, as well as Beholder’s framed Pacific Classic saddle cloth. “It’s clean because she was in front the whole way,” Autry Graham, Spendthrift’s assistant marketing director who led the tour that day, said. Indeed she was, in an 8 ½ length romp that left no doubt who the best horse in the race was that day, and also indicated overall how good she is.
Beholder today lives in the broodmare barn, stabled across from the gray mare Coup de Coeur, who she is closely bonded to among the field of six or so other mares they are turned out with.
Before Beholder was turned out for the day, I got to feed her carrots. The v-shaped bars in the front of her stall were removed and she immediately came over and put her head through. She has a presence and a look in her eye, the look of a great horse,that made me pause for a moment and just soak that in and then start feeding her carrots.
She has such a laid-back personality, which seemed evident as I saw her school several years ago, that 30 people were present the first time she foaled—a farm manager, an assistant farm manager, a broodmare manager, and so on, and many of them even brought their kids—and it never fazed Beholder at all. Whatever her first foal may become (and he has already shown a tendency to be feisty, which could bode well for a competitive fire on the racetrack, noted by Graham), I think those kids may have quite a story to tell someday of seeing the great mare’s first foal come into the world.
After a few carrots, Coup de Coeur was led out of her stall and hesitated on the pavement, reluctant to go on without Beholder in sight. And then Beholder was brought out. She is captivating to see. She carries herself like she knows she is a multiple champion. Yet many have seen that the greats know they have that “something” that sets them apart. It does show in their eyes too, and that may be what captivated me the most. The sun highlighted the dapples in her coat, making her look even more dazzling. She couldn’t have a more fitting name. It is said beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but she may be one of the loveliest horses I have seen and it is hard to imagine it is just because I am the beholder and that most wouldn’t concur.
She tried to make a beeline for the grass, much more intent upon it than Coup de Coeur was. “She is all about her grass!” Graham laughed.
When turned out in the pasture, she and Coup de Coeur grazed head to head, their bond evident, before wandering off to join the other mares in about the center of the pasture.
Gas Station Sushi was also in the pasture and entertained a notion of coming up to the fence for some of the carrots that remained. While she didn’t come up for interaction, her coming closer offered the chance to get a few photos of her. I remembered her from racing at Keeneland and all the attention she garnered for her name, but had never had a good look at her until then to realize how photogenic she is.
On the visit, Beholder was described as a dream as a broodmare so far, getting in foal on one cover each of the three times she’s been bred, and foaling twice so far quite close to her actual due date and at easier times of the day to attend than the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning. Spendthrift also tends to support the stallions they stand to a large extent with the mares that reside on the farm, so Beholder’s foals have represented some of the only ones they have by the stallions she has been bred to. “I’m curious to see what her War Front (appearing to be a filly, due in February next year) looks like because we don’t have any of those. So far, her foals have looked like her in the head and had the body type of their sires,” Graham said.
Richard Mandella and Gary Stevens have paid visits to Beholder in retirement too. Richard Mandella doesn’t come that often because it is emotional for him. “One time he came to visit, and Beholder was out eating grass. She wouldn’t even look up and he was a bit disappointed. Then he pulled a peppermint from his pocket and that was the key to getting her to leave her grass! She even somewhat weans her foals by herself because they get in the way of her grass eating!” Graham said.
This visit was all Horse Country aspired to provide in the way of experiences when they were launched, getting to meet the stars once followed on the track, as well as telling the story of the land and enhancing visitors’ connections to the farm and horses.
To the end of further providing experiences that resonate like the Beholder meeting, Spendthrift is going to open up their onsite training track to visits starting at 5:30 in the morning next spring, and also the breeding shed for a morning’s session, since most farms are not doing that.
They also are looking into options for aftercare, with 8 retired mares currently living on the farm. It brings to mind how Mill Ridge Farm offered a very extensive tour of the property, visiting multiple areas, including interacting with the older mares retired from broodmare duties, which Stonestreet also does on one of their tours. If those older mares are one day part of the group that can be visited, that would be quite memorable too, and for those horses they have ownership in that may still be suited to other careers, they are considering whether New Vocations will be the route they want to take for placement for them.
It is gratifying to see the success Horse Country has become, and how it does allow these farms to expand their tours and provide even greater access to visitors, as Spendthrift plans to do with training and breeding shed tours, success that has also seen WinStar add tours of their mare and foal division and Claiborne do the same, areas that had rarely been open to visitors. I also applaud the farms for making the commitment, while operating their business, to opening the doors regularly and welcoming people. Graham noted that they are fans of the great horses that reside on the farm too, and no doubt that helps drive the willingness to let others see these horses who captivated them on the track. It always makes for a memorable occasion.