From a physical standpoint, Shared Belief has as much in common with Forego as David did with Goliath. From a popularity standpoint, he doesn’t have anywhere near the following that Kelso did. In fact, he’s still trying to displace California Chrome as America’s equine darling. From a longevity standpoint, he still has half a decade before he can rival John Henry.
Why then is Shared Belief beginning to remind me of a pint-sized Forego, a Black Stallion version of Kelso, and a warrior that rivals John Henry?
Am I saying Shared Belief should be compared in any way to those three legendary geldings? Heaven forbid I should utter such sacrilegious words.
The staggering weights carried by Forego and Kelso and their Herculean efforts under those imposts will never prove to be an obstacle for Shared Belief. But that’s not his fault. Racing secretaries nowadays find it difficult counting past 126, and simply put, handicaps are one of those facets of Thoroughbred racing that are blowing in the wind like dandelion spores. In a few years, puff, they’ll be gone.
Kelso’s five consecutive Horse of the Year titles and five consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cup victories at two miles will never be duplicated.
And John Henry’s four grade I victories at age 9 and his ability to win grade I stakes on grass and dirt appear well out of reach of any horse.
With all that said, Shared Belief in only 10 career starts and possibly many more years of racing ahead of him, has shown hints of what made Forego, Kelso, and John Henry great.
He has won at six furlongs, seven furlongs, 1 1/16 miles, and 1 1/4 miles on Polytrack, and he’s won at seven furlongs and 1 1/8 miles on dirt, so the versatility certainly is there. He has run fast at short distances and long distances. He has won with complete authority and has won in fistfights. He is highly intelligent, he knows how to win from anywhere on the racetrack, can adapt to any kind of pace, has an efficient stride (despite paddling his left leg) that makes everything he does look effortless, and has shown his grit and will to win when things got rough. And as a 3-year-old, he defeated older horses in two grade I stakes.
Other than the weight carrying factor, which is out of his control, all the bricks are there, and with Shared Belief being only a 4-year-old, it is hoped that we are looking at four or even five more years for him to keep collecting those bricks until he has compiled enough of them to build something of historic proportion. He already has all the tools. All he needs is time.
In short, he has demonstrated the versatility of Forego, Kelso’s ability to transform himself from a modest-looking individual off the track into a powerful titan on the track, the grit and determination and efficient action of John Henry, and the consistency of all three, at least over a short period of time.
After what we saw in the San Antonio Stakes, one has to wonder just how anyone is going to beat this horse in a fairly run race, although he still has the always dangerous obstacle of Bayern to get past, and controversy or no controversy, this is no easy task. His main nemesis, California Chrome, ran a winning race and would have romped, destroying a very talented and classy horse in grade I winner Hoppertunity, had Shared Belief not been in there. He has a way of playing possum on the turn by taking a breather, giving one the false impression he’s given his all. But once he straightens out in the stretch and switches leads, he finds another gear and kicks in and just seems to glide past his rivals as if he were exerting little energy. When he can come home in :23 4/5 and then a final eighth in :11 4/5, you aren’t going to find many horses who can withstand that kind of closing speed. And when he hit the wire in the San Antonio it looked as if he were just getting started.
To repeat, Shared Belief is not yet in the same stratosphere as Forego, Kelso, and John Henry, but what makes him so exciting are the possibilities of what he may be able to achieve over the next four years. There are still a lot of Breeders’ Cup Classics and Santa Anita Handicaps to be won.
And he already has horsemen using creative superlatives and comparisons to describe him.
Dennis O’Neill, who thought he had him bought before he went to Hollendorfer’s group, said, “My God, that is a runnin’ sonofabitch.”
Trainer Eoin Harty said, despite being unimposing physically, he is “one of the most athletic horses I’ve ever seen because when he walks he prowls like a lion or a cougar, and he’s the same way on the track.”
Trainer Sean McCarthy said, “He’s got a sixth gear and he’s so balanced. He’s just a helluva horse.”
Jockey Mike Smith echoed McCarthy’s words: “He has amazing balance, and things are so easy for him. He adapts to anything.”
Bob Baffert, who has faced him several times with a number of horses, called him “an athletic little rocket ship.”
Because of foot problems last winter, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer trains him over the kinder Tapeta surface at Golden Gate, and then ships three days before a race. So far, it has worked, but when you’re dealing with the feet it is always a concern. Perhaps no great horse had more physical problems than Forego, so there is nothing to indicate that Shared Belief, with proper handling, will not make it through an extensive career unscathed.
Of course, if Shared Belief is going to placed in exalted company he will have to venture outside of California, which he no doubt will do in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, run at Keeneland. But there are also plenty of other opportunities at Saratoga and Belmont Park before that if Hollendorfer and the owners decide to prepare a bold itinerary for him. They have plenty of time in his career to do that, but with the Breeders’ Cup run in California in 2016 and ’17, chances are they’ll be less inclined to travel. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves.
For now, Shared Belief’s career is in its infantile stages. He’s just a mere child compared to the Mighty Forego, the incomparable Kelso, and the indefatigable John Henry. But there are already enough brush strokes on the canvas to indicate this could be a masterpiece in the making.