ARCADIA, Calif. — A wily older jockey and a whip-smart filly named Beholder teamed up to win the $2 million Distaff by 4¼ lengths Friday at Santa Anita, spoiling Royal Delta’s bid for a third straight Breeders’ Cup victory.
Sent off as the third betting choice, Beholder relaxed while running third down the backstretch before moving up to wrest the lead from pace setter Authenticity and going on to the easy victory under Gary Stevens.
Royal Delta and jockey Mike Smith finished fourth as the 7-5 favorite in the Distaff.
At 50, Stevens began a comeback in January that has included winning the Preakness Stakes. He earned his ninth career Cup win and first since 2000.
Beholder, last year’s champion 2-year-old filly, put herself in position to claim this year’s 3-year-old filly title.
‘‘She’s the most intelligent animal that I’ve ever been around,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘She listens. She doesn’t always obey, but when she’s in a race, she listens to what I want to do and the lessons that she’s been taught.’’
Beholder’s owner, Public Storage founder B. Wayne Hughes, credited Stevens.
‘‘Having a comeback like he’s done at his age is phenomenal,’’ he said. ‘‘We really have one of the greatest athletes on the planet sitting right here who is saying the horse is smarter than him, OK?’’
Smith, a 48-year-old Hall of Famer, won two of the five Cup races at Santa Anita, and will be aboard early favorite Game On Dude in the $5 million Classic on Saturday.
Beholder ran 1⅛ miles in 1 minute 47.77 seconds on her home track, where she is trained by Richard Mandella. This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of Mandella winning a record four Cup races in a single day at the 2003 world championships.
Beholder paid $7.60, $4.20, and $3.20. Close Hatches returned $6.60 and $4.80, while Authenticity was another 1¾ lengths back in third and paid $4.20 to show.
Smith triggered the day’s biggest upset in the $500,000 Marathon, the first of five Cup races. He guided London Bridge to a length victory that was worth $20 to win.
Smith followed it up with a length victory aboard Britain-bred Outstrip in the $1 million Juvenile Turf, extending his record for most Cup wins by a jockey to 19.
Goldencents snapped a five-race skid by winning the $1 million Dirt Mile for co-owner Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville basketball coach who wasn’t on hand to join the raucous winner’s circle celebration.
In other races, Rafael Bejarano rode Goldencents to a 3-length victory, and Ireland-bred Chriselliam won the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, giving jockey Richard Hughes and trainer Charles Hills their first Cup victories.
‘Big’ finish for nightcap
The Breeders’ Cup had an Arabian nightcap for the first time.
Friday’s card ended with the rare sight of a white horse pulling away from the field as So Big Is Better won the $150,000 United Arab Emirates Cup. Jockey Luis Medina raised a fist as he finished.
It marked the first time a Breeders’ Cup card included a race for the Arabian breed, forerunners to the thoroughbreds that dominate US and European horse racing.