Champion Shared Belief kept his stellar record spotless in six starts with another smashing victory Aug. 24 in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) (VIDEO), sweeping past pacesetter Game On Dude and drawing away at Del Mar.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the longtime rider of Game On Dude, made the right decision when he abandoned the eight-time grade I winner and accepted the mount on 3-year-old Shared Belief, who scored by about three lengths over British invader Toast of New York, also a 3-year-old.
"He just ran a terrific race," Smith said. "He's a special horse. I heard someone say this might be the coming out of a superstar. I think now this horse deserves that accolade. I'll tell you what: he's as good a young horse as I've sat on in a while."
The 6-5 favorite in the field of 11, Shared Belief had to withstand a stewards' inquiry before the result was posted as official. Victor Espinoza, aboard Toast of New York who was advancing between horses as the leaders squared away for the stretch drive, had to take up briefly with Game On Dude to his inside and Shared Belief on the outside. Stewards ruled the incident did not affect the order of finish.
"I don't believe I caused any trouble in the stretch," Smith said. "When I came over, I had room. If I did cause any trouble, it surely wasn't intentionally.
Shared Belief, who paid $4.40 to win, was clocked in an excellent time of 2:00.38 for 1 1/4 miles on Polytrack. That was slightly off the track mark of 1:59.54 over the surface established by Dullahan in winning the 2012 Pacific Classic.
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Shared Belief runs for Jim Rome's Jungle Racing and partners. With the victory, Shared Belief earned an expense-paid starting berth in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series.
"Great performance (by Shared Belief)," Hollendorfer said. "I've been impressed by his consistency all along."
Toast of New York finished second and Imperative ran on late to nip Game on Dude for third.
Shared Belief raced in the second flight of horses while in midpack as the 7-year-old gelding Game On Dude, the 5-2 second choice, streaked to the lead along the inside for Martin Garcia though pressed hard by the Argentine import Mystery Train. Through sizzling quarter mile fractions for the distance of :22.49, :45.79, and 1:10.08, Game On Dude put away his pace rival and opened a substantial lead on the field heading up the backstretch.
But by the time he reached the quarter pole in 1:35.19 Game On Dude was obviously in trouble as Toast of New York, Irish Surf, and the long-striding Shared Belief all closed in rounding the final bend.
At the top of the stretch, Shared Belief, up on the outside, was poised to grab the lead as Game On Dude drifted out a bit. That stopped Toast of New York's momentum between them, and Shared Belief took command through the lane under Smith's left-handed urging, winning with authority.
"Mike's horse did come over on us and I had to take a hold," Espinoza said of the incident. "Maybe it's different if I don't. But (Toast of New York) ran good. He's a nice horse and this was a big effort for him."
Toast of New York was second by 2 1/4 lengths, with late-running Imperative and Kent Desormeaux snatching the show spot by a neck over the tiring Game On Dude.
With a six-pound weight advantage as a 3-year-old Shared Belief carted 118 and paid $4.40, $3.20, and $2.80. Toast of New York, winner of the U. A. E. Derby (UAE-II) on the Dubai World Cup card March 29 and a three-time winner over synthetic tracks, returned $5.20 and $4.60 as an 8-1 chance, completing a $27.40 exacta. Imperative, winner of the Charles Town Classic (gr. II) this spring, was $8.40 to show.
Game on Dude was followed by Irish Surf, Majestic Harbor, Ice Cream Truck, You Know I Know, Mystery Train, and Clubhouse Ride. Frac Daddy scratched.
Bob Baffert, trainer of Game On Dude, was unhappy about the speed duel created by 25-1 shot Mystery Train.
"Longshots are always the biggest danger to a horse like Game on Dude," Baffert said. "They always want to go after him. I hate to see that. I think he was gonna' win if they hadn't gone after him like that. It's frustrating to train a horse and get him ready for his biggest race and have a horse who has no shot to win take that chance away."
Shared Belief is a son of 2003 Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride , who was also undefeated when he won the Pacific Classic and retired shortly thereafter.
Hollendorfer added his first Pacific Classic victory to his Hall of Fame record. It was the fourth triumph in Del Mar's pinnacle race for Smith, who won it previously with Richard's Kid in both 2009 and 2010, and with Came Home in 2002.
The dark bay gelding's victory was also another top-drawer win for radio and television sports talk star Jim Rome, whose now-retired Mizdirection won the past two editions of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. I). Jungle Racing owns Shared Belief in partnership with Hollendorfer, KMN Racing, Jason Litt, George Todaro, and Alex Solis II.
Hollendorfer bought Shared Belief privately from Pam and Marty Wygod, who bred him in Kentucky out of the Storm Cat mare Common Hope. The Wygods raced Shared Belief in his first victory, a maiden race at Golden Gate Fields. Following that win, Hollendorfer and Solis put together the Rome partnership to purchase him.
After winning an Eclipse Award last year as North America's outstanding male 2-year-old, a foot problem kept Shared Belief out of the Triple Crown season. He's made great progress since returning to action with three consecutive wins to become the leading 3-year-old in the nation, with only dual classic winner California Chrome able to challenge that assessment.
Shared Belief had much to overcome in the Pacific Classic, not only in facing older horses but drawing the far outside post while attempting the classic 1 1/4-mile distance for the first time. After winning his first five races by a combined margin of 29 lengths, he has passed all tests admirably to this point.
In the Breeders' Cup Classic, he'll have to prove once again he can win on dirt. Five of his victories, including his only previous grade I win in the CashCall Futurity, have come over synthetic tracks. However, in winning the Los Alamitos Derby (gr. II) July 5 on dirt, he displayed the same efficient stride he has shown in all of his races while strolling to a 4 1/4-length win.
That victory was the first time he was partnered with Smith and the smooth effort convinced the Hall of Fame rider that Shared Belief was his horse of the future. It was a huge day for Smith, who won four races on the card including the Del Mar Mile (gr. IIT) on the turf with Tom's Tribute. The 49-year-old rider won his meet-leading eighth stakes race in the Pacific Classic.
The Pacific Classic win also keeps Shared Belief in line for a $1 million bonus if he can win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Los Alamitos created the "Bolton Challenge" for any horse that can win the Los Al Derby, Pacific Classic, and BC Classic. The bonus is sponsored by the Los Alamitos Racing Association and the California-based insurance brokerage firm Bolton & Company.