He's the best undefeated thoroughbred you may never have seen. Although Shared Belief is 7-for-7 by an average margin of 8 lengths, the 3-year-old gelding pretty much has stayed out of the spotlight. After being voted 2-year-old champion despite skipping the Breeders' Cup, he sat out the Triple Crown, and he still hasn't raced outside California.
You're familiar with Shared Belief's co-owner, controversial sports-talk host Jim Rome, who will watch his superstar face his marquee moment in Saturday's $5-million, 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Among the 9-5 favorite's 13 opponents are Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero California Chrome (4-1); Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Tonalist (5-1); Bayern (6-1), champion of the Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby, and Whitney winner Moreno (20-1).
Shared Belief is stabled at Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's barn at Golden Gate Fields, a minor-league outpost near San Francisco. Nothing significant happens at Golden Gate, which runs lots of $5,000 claimers over a synthetic surface. Hollendorfer, Northern California's undisputed king since the mid-1980s, also knows how to campaign big-time runners, having won three Kentucky Oaks.
Unlike Rome, famous for his in-your-face, "I am right" shtick, Hollendorfer is self-effacing. After more than 6,700 victories, third all-time, the 68-year-old Ohio native isn't full of himself. He doesn't talk up his horses much, not even Shared Belief. "I stay pretty even keel all the time," Hollendorfer said. "People ask me if I ever get nervous, but I'd be nervous if I didn't have a horse in a big race."
Shared Belief showed his class by overcoming a ridiculously wide trip in his last race, the Awesome Again on Sept. 27 at Santa Anita. Like California Chrome in the Belmont, Shared Belief was a target, and jockey Victor Espinoza took dead aim, floating him to the seven-path on the first turn. It backfired, because Shared Belief surged late for Mike Smith to get up by a neck and Espinoza drew a suspension.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do and more," Hollendorfer said. "While respecting the other horses, we're going into the race with confidence."
If you're planning to play Shared Belief at a short price, here are a few caveats that may make you edgy. He's taking a serious class jump in only his third start on dirt (five were on synthetic).
If need-to-lead types Bayern and Moreno battle through fast fractions, as expected, Smith will try to put Shared Belief in the second flight and move on the far turn. Smith, another Hall of Famer, is No. 1 with 20 Breeders' Cup victories, including three Classics.
"He is extremely long and has great balance," Smith said. "He is very unique in that he can adapt during a race, and that ability is really a huge plus."
Untapable takes Distaff. Untapable, ridden by Rosie Napravnik and trained by Steve Asmussen, wore down pacesetter Iotapa in the stretch and went on to a 1 1/4-length win in the $2-million Distaff yesterday. The 3-year-old filly covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.68 for her eighth win in 11 career starts.
Heavy favorite Goldencents ($3.40, Rafael Bejarano) went wire to wire in 1:35.16 for a breezy 1 1/4-length victory over Tapiture in the Dirt Mile.
Hootenanny ($14, Frank Dettori) ran past pacesetter Luck of the Kitten in deep stretch to win the Juvenile Turf by three-quarters of a length.
Lady Eli ($6.80, Irad Ortiz) got through on the rail off the turn on the way to a 2 3/4-length win over Sunset Glow in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.Notes & quotes: Preceding the Classic (8:35 post time ET) will be the Juvenile Fillies, Filly and Mare Turf, Filly and Mare Sprint, Turf Sprint, Juvenile, Turf, Sprint and Mile, whose purses total $14.5 million.