Shared Belief faced a number of significant challenges in the $1-million Pacific Classic Stakes on Sunday at Del Mar, but as has been the case in every race of his life the Candy Ride gelding was up to the task.
Facing older horses for the first time – no problem. Running his first race at 1 1/4 miles – plenty of gas in the tank. Shifting running styles to accommodate a sizzling pace – all in a day’s work.
Shared Belief absolutely inhaled eight-time Grade 1 winner Game On Dude entering the Del Mar stretch and streaked to a dominant win. The only thing capable of slowing down Shared Belief’s trip to the winner’s circle Sunday was a stewards’ inquiry after Victor Espinoza, rider of runner-up Toast of New York, was forced to check in close quarters near the top of the stretch.
But for majority owner Jim Rome, what is a four-minute inquiry when you have a gifted gelding like this to look forward to?
“Those four minutes felt like four weeks,” said Rome, a popular television host and sports personality. “The two greatest words I’ve heard in my life: ‘No change.’ ”
But there was, in fact, a significant change on Sunday to the makeup of the handicap division. Shared Belief was obviously a brilliant runner entering the Pacific Classic with five wins in as many starts by a combined margin of 29 lengths, plus an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male in 2013.
The test against older horses, however, often separates the good from the great and perhaps in the Pacific Classic racing fans saw a horse on the precipice of greatness.
Shared Belief toyed with older horses going 1¼ miles, finishing the Pacific Classic 2 3/4 lengths clear of Toast of New York in 2:00.28 under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. The final time was about four-fifths of a second off the track record of 1:59.54 set by Dullahan in the 2012 Pacific Classic.
He is now one of the favorites, if not the favorite, for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1. Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Shared Belief cemented a spot in the $5-million race Classic with a win in the Pacific Classic, which is part of the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
“He just ran a terrific race. He’s a special horse,” Smith said. “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.”
Game On Dude won the Pacific Classic by 8½ lengths in 2013. When his regular rider, Smith, opted to stick with Shared Belief, it showed how much faith the rider had in last year’s 2-year-old champ.
As usual, Game On Dude, now 7, streaked out of the starting gate intent on taking the lead, but he had company immediately from Argentine Group 1 winner Mystery Train, who pushed him through an opening quarter-mile in a lightning quick :22.49.
Shared Belief, who has raced on or near the lead throughout his entire career, rated kindly about seven lengths back under Smith and waited for his cue.
Toast of New York was in tight between Shared Belief and Game On Dude at the top of the stretch and Espinoza was ng the stretch he could not match strides with the winner.
Toast of New York was well clear of Imperative, who closed from last of 10 to nip Game On Dude by a neck for third.
With the Pacific Classic victory, Shared Belief enters the discussion for champion 3-year-old male honors, but he has quite a bit of ground to make up on California Chrome. California Chrome’s five wins in six starts this year include three Grade 1s — the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. He is scheduled to make his next start in the $1-million, Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 20.
In two starts this year, Shared Belief won an allowance race on May 26 at Golden Gate Fields in his season debut and the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby on July 5.
Fans of the sport can only hope California Chrome and Shared Belief settle the argument of which horse is the better 3-year-old on the racetrack. If it is in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in a couple of months, all the better.
Pat O’Brien Stakes
Goldencents set a track record for seven furlongs with a dazzling display of speed in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes on the Pacific Classic undercard.
The 2013 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile victor charged right to the front and set the pace while uncontested, coasting along the backstretch in a nice, easy rhythm under Rafael Bejarano. He faced only a mild challenge on the turn and edged away before opening up a commanding lead in the stretch.
Goldencents rolled to a 4 1/4-length romp and completed the seven furlongs on Del Mar’s synthetic Polytrack surface in 1:20.99, breaking the previous track record of 1:21.17 set by Fed Biz in 2013.
Fed Biz was no match for Goldencents in the 2014 edition, settling for second in the seven-horse field as the 3-to-2 favorite.
Trained by Doug O’Neill for owner W.C. Racing, Goldencents improved to six wins and six seconds in 16 starts. He also earned an automatic starting spot in this year’s Dirt Mile via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
Del Mar Mile
Five weeks after earning a breakthrough win in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes, Tom’s Tribute confirmed his class in the male turf division and punched his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile with a one-length win in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile Handicap on Sunday.
Tom’s Tribute raced well off a blistering pace set by multiple Grade 1 winner and heavy favorite Obviously, who zipped through a half-mile in :45.32. Tom’s Tribute started his bid under Mike Smith approaching the final turn and caught Obviously in the stretch for his third win in six starts this year.
Trained by James Cassidy for Braly Family Trust, Tom’s Tribute avenged a defeat at the hands of Obviously in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita in June. The Del Mar Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race, which means Tom’s Tribute secured a spot in the starting Gate for the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Rock Me Baby rallied for second, followed by Handsome Mike. Obviously faded to fourth.