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Breeders' Cup 2017

Beholder's Success Reflects Small Farm's Dedication

Beholder wins 2013 Zenyatta Stakes.
Photo: Benoit Photo

Central Kentucky is home to some of the most renowned Thoroughbred farms in the industry – farms that encompass thousands of acres of bluegrass pastures upon which the regal animals graze. Their barns are of breathtaking stature and beauty, their horses have expensive price tags attached to them, and their fences form miles and miles of connected wooden boards. As one drives down the back roads that surround Lexington and nearby areas, eye-catching entrances declare the names of these prestigious farms: Adena Springs, Darley at Jonabell Farm, Gainesway Farm, and WinStar Farm among them.

But on Bryan Station Road just outside of Lexington is a family-run farm that encompasses approximately 400 acres – an expanse far smaller than many farms in the area. A basic stone entrance welcomes you to the farm, reading “Clarkland Farm.”

Clarkland Farm is a family-run farm located on a piece of land that has been in the family since the 1700s. Essentially, the farm is operated by three family members: Nancy and Fred Mitchell, as well as Nancy’s daughter Marty Buckner.

“The three of us are out there every day,” Fred Mitchell said. “We handle every mare. We see them every day. And the young horses, same way. . . We handle the horses ourselves.”

Size does not matter. Dedication and passion do. This has been made evident by Clarkland’s success. Amongst industry giants, the family-run operation has proven itself as one of the best in the industry, producing numerous champions, including two-time Champion Sprinter Housebuster, Champion Older Mare North Sider, and English Champion Two-Year-Old Colt Wind and Wuthering. The farm’s most recent champion is chasing her second Eclipse Award title. Her name is Beholder, the 2012 Eclipse Award Champion Two-Year-Old Filly who will compete in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I).

Beholder is a Clarkland filly through and through. Bred, raised, and sold by Clarkland, Beholder was a special filly from the beginning.

“She was a very, very nice foal,” Mitchell stated. “But she didn’t really start to bloom until we started getting her ready for the September Sale.”

Mitchell recalled that Beholder made such an impression as a yearling that, when she was turned out with two other fillies, Mitchell’s wife Nancy declared, “If I was gonna race one of those three nice fillies, I would take the Henny Hughes.”






Beholder at 3-months-old, 7-months-old, and as a yearling
Photos by Katie Mooney 

But despite Beholder’s presence as a yearling – which Mitchell compared to that of a Quarter Horse showing at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, the world’s largest single-breed horse show – expectations as to how she would sell at the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale were not particularly high. She was a daughter of Henny Hughes, who is not exactly a commercially popular sire.

However, Beholder was the highest-priced yearling from the Clarkland consignment at the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, selling for $180,000 to B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm in the fifth session of the marathon sale.

“She sold better than we expected,” Mitchell stated. “We were tickled to death.”

Beholder broke her maiden at Del Mar at second asking as a two-year-old for trainer Richard Mandella prior to falling just a nose short behind the then-undefeated Excecutiveprivilege in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I). An 11-length romp in an allowance at Santa Anita set her up perfectly for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), in which she would again encounter Executiveprivilege.

“I thought she had a good chance,” Mitchell said. “I thought [Executiveprivilege] – who had beaten her before – was her competition, and Todd Pletcher had a couple of nice fillies in there. I thought it was a very, very tough race.”

Despite the talented fillies that competed against her in the Juvenile Fillies, Beholder proved her superiority, leading from start to finish to capture the championship race by one length over Executiveprivilege. The race brought pure joy to those at Clarkland, instilling Mitchell with indescribable emotions.

“They say it’s hard to see a grown man cry. But they do cry,” Mitchell said. “We were beside ourselves when she crossed the finish line last year.”


Beholder was placed on the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) trail, competing in three graded stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year in preparation for the prestigious race. She won two of these, garnering grade one victories in the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) and Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), prior to shipping east to Churchill Downs for the race that is dubbed as the Kentucky Derby’s sister.

But in the post parade for the Oaks, Beholder became so aggravated and uneasy that she partially fell behind the starting gate, unseating rider Garrett Gomez. Despite this, Beholder ran a terrific race, tracking the pace throughout prior to taking the lead at the top of the stretch. She began to draw away from her rivals, displaying her class and determination as she persevered toward the wire, only to be caught by Princess of Sylmar. She had expended her energy before the race had even begun.

“She lost the race in the post parade,” Mitchell stated wistfully.

But since the Kentucky Oaks, Beholder has been better than ever, easily winning the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar and the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita. On Friday, she will face the toughest test of her career in the Distaff – in which she will encounter the two-time defending champion Royal Delta, as well as her fellow three-year-old rival, Princess of Sylmar. Mitchell acknowledges that this is a very difficult race – perhaps even one of the greatest of all-time if the race is as exciting as the field it has drawn. Despite this, Mitchell believes she’ll be tough to beat – a thought that is shared with many others in the racing industry.

When asked what a victory by Beholder in the Distaff would mean to Mitchell and his family, he responded with a laugh, “$60,000.”

But on a more serious note, he stated, “It would mean a lot, because Leslie’s Lady’s (the dam of Beholder) offspring. . . will be worth a lot of money at the sales. That just makes it that much more enjoyable.”

Breeders’ Cup results aside, Beholder’s success has granted the farm with great joy as they follow her career. With Beholder, Clarkland Farm has defied the odds, producing one of the best racehorses in the country from a small, family-run operation.

“It’s something that you dream of – that you think will never happen to you,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a feeling that’s hard to explain to anybody. It’s what we work for.”


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Older Comments about Beholder's Success Reflects Small Farm's Dedication...

Love, love, to see the small farms hit the jackpot. Way to go Beholder!
Tom had a great day today. I heard that he was treated liek royalty.
Love uber-rich casual, I kept urging Tom to rock a T-Shirt in the Dining Room @ Belmont but it's too late now.
Loved the owner. Showed up in a sweat shirt and was very gracious when accepting his trophy.
Nice story. Always like it when the little guys make it big. Keeps the dream alive that you too can own or breed a champion.
Very nice win by Beholder!!! Great job!!!
like to you Amino
My fortune cookie says >> Good fortune will result in the value of Beholder’s kin going *randomly* upward.
Champions are randomly produced...It is the wise horse man/woman who recognizes that and does everything possible NOT to mess up the gift of good fortune.
I agree that would be an upset.
in a 5 horse field I would say Beholder beating Delta or Princess of Sy would be an upset. Not a longshot but still an upset
I'm not sure how exactly she'd be considered an upsetter, when she is currently third choice - and I would guess likely to move up to 2nd based just off track preference & past BC preformance. I wouldn't consider that a longshot/upset.
Great post. I love Beholder, I think she's going to upset the field
Mary, thanks for posting a great story on Beholder!! I hope she wins the BC Distaff this year.

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