Life often times presents us with opportunities. For Thoroughbred jockey Gary Stevens, one of his best friends will provide him with an unforgettable one come October 31.

When the gates open for the 27th running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the richest race in North America will have a little different feel to it for the hall of fame rider. Having been one of the top figures in the sport since the late 1980’s, Stevens has been accustomed to being in the spotlight. Returning to the track after retirements and knee replacement surgery with tremendous success, this proud grandparent has graciously been a poster guy for the sport. This time, however, it is just a bit different for the talented Idaho native. In most years, his mount in the Classic would be in the spotlight, but this time she could be considered the spoiler. The operative word here is…she!

Beholder will attempt to become the second female runner to ever win the Breeders’ Cup Classic when Stevens guides her into the starting gate. Hoping to join the sensational Zenyatta (2009) as beaters of the boys in the signature event of these world championships, this marvelous five-year old mare would normally be the rooting interest of the general public. And as a two-time Cup winner already (2012 Juvenile Fillies, 2013 Distaff) she might would go in as the favorite. But unlike any of the previous runnings of the Cup, a Triple Crown winner will be toeing the track too. American Pharoah brings a little something extra to the table as the world watches the 2015 event unfold and his massive fan base wants one more win.

With 10 previous Breeders’ Cup wins overall and one win in the Classic (2013 Mucho Macho Man), Stevens knows a little bit about the big stage of this event. Having won over 5,000 races in North America including 3 Kentucky Derbies, the veteran jock has an understanding of what this could be for him and his beloved Beholder.

“After I won the Ladies Classic and the Classic in 2013 with Beholder and Mucho Macho Man I never thought any thing would be bigger for me at the Breeders’ Cup,” says Stevens. “This has a chance to be even bigger. For Beholder, this is the biggest race of her life.”

Considering Beholder has 15 wins and 2 second place finishes in 20 lifetime starts and 10 of those victories have come in grade 1 races, it is pretty strong to say this is the biggest race of her life. As perhaps the best horse on the West coast since claiming the 2012 Juvenile Fillies race at Santa Anita in 2012, this daughter of Henny Hughes has been nothing short of excellent. Her romp in the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 22 against the boys proved she is plenty good enough to whip anybody. Then her third career win in the Zenyatta Stakes on September 26 solidified Beholder as a horse still on the rise.

“There are not many horses that would have run the way she did in the Zenyatta after such a huge effort at Del Mar,” says Stevens. “She knew she did not need to be too keyed up going in. That can be hard for some horses. After running as big as she did in the Pacific Classic we wanted the Zenyatta to be easy. I told her what to do and she listened to me.”

Beholder and her hall of fame rider have become a team to be reckoned with. Since coming out of retirement in 2013, Stevens has developed a special bond with this Richard Mandella trained runner. Becoming the best of friends, Beholder and Stevens have gotten to know each other quite well while winning 9 of 10 starts together. The unifying of these two greats has been fantastic, but Stevens quickly admits there is more to it than just jockey and horse.

“It really has been special working with the entire Beholder team,” says Stevens. “Richard Mandella is a great guy to work for and he has done an excellent job of understanding how to handle her. The whole team is just unbelievable in how well they do their job. That makes a great horse even better.”

As good as Beholder has been, she still has her critics. Having never won outside the state of California, this magnificent mare has faced some challenges when traveling. At the 2012 Kentucky Oaks she got overly excited before the race started and unseated rider Garret Gomez. Beholder then proceeded to run very strong only to be nipped at the wire by Princess of Sylmar. In the 2014 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park, she suffered a deep cut on her leg during the race and finished a very close fourth. The challenge of running at Keeneland against the likes of American Pharoah makes this an even greater opportunity for one of the most accomplished riders of all-time.

“This is our chance to prove all the naysayers wrong,” says Stevens. “Sure we have got something to prove and we want to do it when it’s the biggest race on the map. We feel like she is ready and has a lot of run left. The real beauty of this opportunity is she is still getting better.”

The Breeders’ Cup Classic will be the culmination of a two-day 13-race event at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky. Post time is slated for 4:35 central time on October 31 for the $5 million race run at the distance of a mile and a quarter.

©Benoit Photo ©Benoit Photo