Unbeaten Shared Belief, last year's 2-year-old juvenile champion, answered the dirt question with an emphatic 4 1/4-length win in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Derby (gr. II) July 5 at Los Alamitos Race Course.
In the first graded stakes run over the new Thoroughbred oval at Los Alamitos, 3-5 choice Shared Belief left old rival Candy Boy behind in the drive to record his fifth consecutive lifetime win and second victory of the 2014 season. The inaugural Los Alamitos Derby replaced shuttered Hollywood Park's former Swap Stakes on the Southern California calendar.
The 3-year-old gelding's four previous wins came over synthetic tracks at Golden Gate Fields and Hollywood Park, so this was his first try over natural dirt. He stalked front-running Can the Man on the outside to the top of the stretch and packed a big wallop when asked by jockey Mike Smith as Candy Boy challenged after the champ grabbed the lead.
The Hall of Fame rider couldn't help but be impressed after his first trip aboard the talented son of Candy Ride .
"My main concern honestly was would he handle the dirt, would he run the same as he has on synthetic," Smith said. "I wasn't worried about the distance and I wasn't worried about him being fit. I knew within 100 yards out of the gate that he was going to handle the dirt."
Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Shared Belief was timed in an excellent 1:47.01 for his first start at 1 1/8 miles.
"It feels really good to get that out of the way," a smiling Hollendorfer told HRTV.
Hollendorfer purchased Shared Belief privately after the dark bay broke his maiden in his debut at Golden Gate Fields last October and is a part owner with radio and television sports personality Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing, KMN Racing, Jason Litt, George Todaro, and Alex Solis II.
The trainer said he has not worked out a schedule yet for Shared Belief's summer races, "but we'll probably start making some plans shortly."
Affirmed Stakes (gr. III) winner Can the Man wanted the front and set the pace by about a length through the stretch the first time, with Shared Belief conceding the lead on the outside and outsider Eddie's First close at the rail. Early fractions went in :23.54, :47.53, and 1:11.09 as Shared Belief inched closer leaving the three-eighths pole and Candy Boy ranged up three wide behind the leaders.
Shared Belief took over from the weakening Can the Man leaving the far turn and was confronted briefly by Candy Boy, ridden by Joe Talamo. But given his cue by Smith, Shared Belief drew off through the lane and won without encouragement from his rider in the final furlong.
"I asked him just a bit off the turn because that's all he really needed," said Smith, who is the fourth different jockey to ride Shared Belief. "He's so well-balanced. He gets up underneath you really quick. He responds really well."
In a strung out finish, the Hollendorfer-trained Tonito M. was 7 1/4 lengths farther back in third, followed by Friendswith K Mill, Can the Man, Top Fortitude, and Eddie's First.
This was the second start of the year for Shared Belief, who defeated a small field of older rivals in a six-furlong sprint at Golden Gate May 26. Expected to be a major player on this year's Triple Crown trail, his season was delayed by a stubborn quarter crack. But he appears to be back in top form as he tackles the second half of the season.
Hollendorfer was confident Shared Belief would handle the dirt well after shipping his charge south from Golden Gate July 2. Shared Belief had a good gallop over the Los Alamitos surface Thursday.
"I was a little anxious to get this one out of the way and see if he could handle dirt and the mile and an eighth," Hollendorfer said. "I thought I had him prepared and apparently he was because he won pretty much in hand. I was confident he would handle dirt because his sire Candy Ride handled all surfaces.
"Mike (Smith) called me early this morning and we went over the race and we knew we had to be tactical here, so we came out of the gate just like we planned and were forwardly placed. Turns out we were in the right spot. I love this horse and I think he's a very good horse. I'm very proud of (Tonito M.). He ran very well."
Pam and Marty Wygod bred Shared Belief in Kentucky out of the Storm Cat mare Common Hope.
Shared Belief's Eclipse Award-winning juvenile campaign was highlighted by victories in the Hollywood Prevue (gr. III) and CashCall Futurity (gr. I), in which he finished nearly six lengths in front of Candy Boy at Hollywood Park Dec. 14.
With his latest victory, Shared Belief has won his five starts by a combined margin of nearly 30 lengths while earning $772,200.
"A Derby is a Derby," said co-owner Rome, part of good-sized crowd for the race. "It may not be the Kentucky Derby, but I'm going to take a Derby win anyway I can get it. It's a good day. I've had the same questions as you guys about whether he could run on dirt and most of all if he could get that distance. I was a little concerned, but then he did what he does. Shared Belief did Shared Belief things and it ended pretty well.''
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, Shared Belief paid $3.40, $2.60, and $2.10, keying an $8.40 exacta with Candy Boy, who returned $3.60 and $2.60 as the second choice in the field of seven. Tonito M., the former Puerto Rican standout, paid $5 to show.
This was the first start for grade II winner Candy Boy since the John Sadler-trained colt finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Sadler had given the homebred owned by Lee and Susan Searing's C R K Stable a freshening after a rough trip in the Derby.
"I had a lot of horse going into that turn," said Talamo, riding Candy Boy for the first time. "I came up to him and I thought I had a good chance, but (Shared Belief) is something else. My horse ran a big race, but hats off to Shared Belief."