ARCADIA, Calif. — For the last quarter-mile, Songbird and Beholder refused to yield. They ran neck-and-neck, with their Hall of Fame jockeys looking for the tiniest edge.
Gary Stevens, aboard Beholder, called it "just a street fight."
The 6-year-old mare landed the final blow, with Beholder edging Songbird by a nose in the $2 million Distaff on opening day of the Breeders' Cup on Friday at Santa Anita.
Even jockey Mike Smith agreed it was "an amazing, amazing race" after his 3-year-old filly, Songbird, lost for the first time in 12 races.
"It was fun to be part of a battle," Stevens said. "The show that those two just put on is worth the price of admission for everybody that showed up. This was horse racing at its best."
It was a thrilling finish to the four Cup races on the first of the two-day world championships. The announced crowd of 45,673 was the largest for a Friday session since the Breeders' Cup added a second day in 2007. It was a 1 percent increase over last year's Friday crowd of 44,497 at Keeneland in Kentucky.
Nine Cup races will be run today, capped by the $6 million Classic, in which California Chrome is the early favorite.
Beholder ran 11/8 miles in 1:49.20 and paid $8.60, $3.60 and $3 as the 3-1 third choice. It was Beholder's third Cup victory, having won the Distaff in 2013 and the Juvenile Fillies in 2012. The Distaff was Beholder's final career race. She finished with 18 career victories. The 6-year-old mare is a three-time Eclipse Award winner.
The day's biggest upset belonged to Smith aboard 11-1 shot Tamarkuz, who won the $1 million Dirt Mile by 31/2 lengths for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. It was Smith's 23rd career Cup victory; he leads all jockeys in Cup victories and money won.
In the $1 million Juvenile Turf, 6-1 shot Oscar Performance won by 11/4 lengths, giving jockey Jose Ortiz and trainer Brian Lynch their first Cup victories.
Trained by Chad Brown, 6-1 shot New Money Honey won the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf by a half-length under Javier Castellano.