Making the case for California Chrome, Shared Belief in San Antonio Stakes
With a pair of champions in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita Park, it makes assessing each horse's chances a fun exercise.
California Chrome will make his first start since taking home Horse of the Year honors, and it will be televised on The Jockey Club Tour on FOX Sports 1 with TV coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Chrome also won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male, a category in which he edged both Breeders' Cup Classic winner Bayern and 2013 champion 2-year-old male Shared Belief.
Shared Belief also will make his season debut in the 1⅛-mile San Antonio Stakes, which will be the second time Chrome and Shared Belief have faced each other. California Chrome was third in the Classic and Shared Belief fourth, after trouble at the start when Bayern ducked in and interfered with Shared Belief.
Both horses came back with wins after the Classic — California Chrome in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on the turf and Shared Belief in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes sprinting — so let's get right to it and make a case for and against both Chrome, the 6-5 morning-line favorite, and Belief, the second choice at 7-5.
CASE FOR CALIFORNIA CHROME: You could have made a case in mid-2014 that Shared Belief was much faster on paper than California Chrome, but the tables turned the other way in the second half of the year. Chrome posted new career-best Equibase Speed Figures in the Breeders' Cup Classic (112) and then again in the Hollywood Derby (116). He posted eight straight triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures and saved the best for last. Looking at the Daily Racing Form's Beyer Speed Figures, both California Chrome and Shared Belief posted four triple-digit Beyer figures in 2014 with Chrome's 113 for the Classic better than any speed figure Shared Belief posted on dirt and two points off Shared Belief's 115 for the Pacific Classic on Del Mar's synthetic surface.
California Chrome really looked like he was back at his best in the second half of the year after recovering from the grind of the Triple Crown, and if you toss his comeback from a long layoff in the Pennsylvania Derby, California Chrome has won seven of nine with the two losses coming by a neck in the Classic and 1¾ lengths in the Belmont Stakes in his third race in five weeks. The San Antonio distance appears to be a good one for Chrome, who has won both of his starts at 1-1/16 miles by a combined margin of 12¾ lengths, and he has been working well in advance of his debut.
CASE AGAINST CALIFORNIA CHROME: The worst-case scenario for California Chrome would be to get off to a poor start and be trapped in traffic down on the inside. I think we now know that he runs much more comfortably when in the clear. His only win during the second half of the year came on the grass in the Hollywood Derby against a suspect field of five overmatched rivals. Two of Chrome's seven career losses came on the main track at Santa Anita Park and he still does not have a victory in a race in open company, which means it is open to all ages and sexes with no restrictions. Another consideration is if the nine-race campaign in 2015 will take a toll on him physically.
HOW CALIFORNIA CHROME WINS: The Kentucky Derby winner gets away to a clean start and establishes an ideal stalking position from two- or three-wide just off the pace. His recent workouts indicate California Chrome is sitting on a monster race and he surges clear entering the stretch and finishes powerfully to silence any remaining doubters.
CASE FOR SHARED BELIEF: Shared Belief has recorded six straight triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures, and his career-best 114 was accomplished twice, both at Santa Anita Park. Other than the Breeders' Cup Classic, in which he was squeezed back and lost valuable position at the start, Shared Belief has never been defeated. Even after a brutal beginning, Shared Belief did not give up and battled on to finish a respectable fourth in the Classic. When Shared Belief is on his game, he is electrifying — he won his first six career races by a combined margin of 31¾ lengths. His career-best Equibase Speed Figure of 114 on dirt is better than California Chrome's best dirt figure of 112. He rebounded from his first career defeat in the Classic by winning the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes, a Grade 1 race that should have him razor sharp with six weeks of rest. A recent six-furlong workout in 1:11.80 on the synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields proved he is ready, and his regular rider Mike Smith won the race two years ago aboard standout gelding Game On Dude.
CASE AGAINST SHARED BELIEF: Shared Belief has won his five races on synthetic surfaces by a combined margin of 27½ lengths. He has three wins in four starts on dirt by a combined margin of 4¾ lengths. It's not unfair to ask if he is a better horse on synthetic surfaces. The brilliance he showed in winning his first six races has not been there since he got everything he could handle from Fed Biz in winning the Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 27. Is it possible that Shared Belief has already peaked? Shared Belief was hampered by Bayern veering in at the start of the Breeders' Cup Classic; that is indisputable. But you could make a case, based on this overhead camera angle, that the trouble Shared belief encountered at the start of the Breeders' Cup Classic was not quite as bad as it seemed at the time. Was it costly? No doubt, and he seemed to shy from Bayern and bump the horse inside of him. But that camera angle makes it look like Shared Belief was not sideswiped, as the head-on angle appeared to show.
HOW SHARED BELIEF WINS: After a sharpener in the seven-furlong Malibu, the brilliant Shared Belief returns in the San Antonio. Mike Smith asks Shared Belief to shift gears and make up some ground on the final turn and his turn of foot overwhelms the opposition in the stretch as the horse many fans and analysts thought was the fastest in the U.S. in 2014 proves it in the San Antonio by defeating the reigning Horse of the Year.