If there is a 3-year-old with any hope of knocking California Chrome off his pedestal and stake his claim to the 3-year-old male championship, this weekend is when he has to make his big push and put himself in position for a showdown vs. the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).
Three of those—Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) winner Bayern, Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tonalist, and Wood Memorial (gr. I) and Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) winner Wicked Strong—will clash in the Aug. 23 Travers Stakes (gr. I).
However, the true threat to California Chrome may be running the following day against older horses in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar Racetrack.
Shared Belief, not only is unbeaten and untested in five career starts, winning by margins ranging from 4 1/4 lengths to 7 3/4 lengths, he is the reigning 2-year-old champion, having romped in last year's CashCall Futurity (gr. I) and Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III)
Unfortunately, a series of physical setbacks knocked him off the Triple Crown trail, but the son of Candy Ride —Common Hope, by Storm Cat, looks to be back in top form, winning a six-furlong allowance race at Golden Gate by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:09.78 and following that up with a sharp 4 1/4-length score over the top-class Candy Boy in the Los Alamitos Derby (gr. II), formerly the Swaps Stakes, covering the 1 1/8 miles in a swift 1:47.01.
He now will stretch out to 1 1/4 miles off a seven-week rest, during which he has turned in a series of long works, including a six-furlong drill in 1:13 1/5 and a seven-furlong work in 1:28 1/5, both over the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate.
The Los Alamitos Derby was Shared Belief's first race over a dirt track, so he still is inexperienced over that surface, and he still will be, following the Pacific Classic, run over Del Mar's Polytrack surface.
Shared Belief no doubt will be tested by such talented and classy older horses as Game On Dude, who romped by 8 1/2 lengths in last year's Pacific Classic; Majestic Harbor, who ran off with this year's Gold Cup at Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), winning by 6 1/4 lengths; the Charles Town Classic (gr. II) winner Imperative;and the hard-knocking Clubhouse Ride, who has bankrolled more than $1.3 million in his career.
Shared Belief, who was bred by Pam and Marty Wygod, is owned by a partnership that includes trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and TV sports host Jim Rome.
So, can Shared Belief continue his string of dominant victories, this time against a talented field of older horses, and put himself in the mix for the 3-year-old title?
Mike Smith, who became the gelding's fourth rider in five starts when he guided him to victory in the Los Alamitos Derby, paid Shared Belief the ultimate compliment when he chose to ride him in the Pacific Classic instead of his old partner Game On Dude, on whom he won several grade I stakes.
Game On Dude's trainer, Bob Baffert, could see the writing on the wall after the Los Alamitos Derby.
"As soon as they crossed the finish line, I said, 'Oops, I'm gonna need a jockey," Baffert said. "I can't blame Mike for going with the younger gelding. We really don't know how good that horse is."
Smith, speaking on a national teleconference Aug. 19, said, "It was an extremely difficult decision, and came down to the fact that Shared Belief is a 3-year-old and has a few good years ahead of him. I'm planning on sticking with him for a long time.
"I was really amazed at the ease with which he won the Los Alamitos Derby, and there was a good group of 3-year-olds behind him. This horse is such a professional and so straightforward. I was also amazed at how well balanced he is. He's not a big horse, but when you're on him he make you feel like you're on a giant. He had plenty left in the tank at the end; it's kind of scary."
In attempting to beat Game On Dude, Smith said, "I know if he gets things his own way, he's going to be extremely difficult. I hope we can get some help. If we don't I'll have to do it myself. But when you get this caliber of horses, there should be some pace. The goal is a simple one—I have to flat outrun Game On Dude."
If he does, as well as the others in the field, Shared Belief could very well emerge from the race as a superstar.