Spoiler Alert - By Eric Mitchell

Here’s Shared Belief poised to steal the show once again.

After the Triple Crown, conventional wisdom had all but conceded 3-year-old male championship honors to California Chrome. The argument for draping a champion’s mantle across the withers of Lucky Pulpit’s son didn’t have many holes. A homebred for Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, California Chrome had strung together five consecutive stakes victories including the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Every 3-year-old male champion since 2000 had won at least one of the three American classics, and seven champions during this period had won two legs of the Triple Crown.

More on 2000’s champion later.

Enter Shared Belief to start raising doubts about what had once seemed so certain. The son of Candy Ride also created a stir last year by being named 2-year-old champion male even though he was a no-show in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer passed on the Juvenile because the race was too close to the date the gelding had broken his maiden, a seven-length blowout Oct. 19 at Golden Gate Fields. Hollendorfer had his eye on the grade I $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park. The trainer tuned Shared Belief up in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III), which he won by 73⁄4 lengths, and then took the CashCall Futurity by 53⁄4 lengths to remain undefeated for the year.

Eclipse Award voters didn’t see a clear choice for 2013 juvenile champion honors but gave the nod to Shared Belief by awarding him 115 first-place votes to 99 votes cast for Juvenile winner New Year’s Day. Shared Belief became only the fourth 2-year-old male champion to have bypassed the Juvenile.

As it would turn out, a quarter crack took Shared Belief off the Derby trail and kept him out of the classics. The gelding, owned by Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing, Kevin Nish’s KMN Racing, Alex Solis II, Jason Litt, George Todaro, and Hollendorfer, wouldn’t make his first start as a sophomore until May 26 in an allowance race at Golden Gate Fields. His next start would be another romp, July 5 in the Los Alamitos Derby (gr. II). But Shared Belief was just getting started. He catapulted into championship consideration with a powerful 23⁄4-length victory in $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) over a field that included three grade/group I winners—Game On Dude, Majestic Harbor, and Mystery Train—and four other graded stakes winners. The final time of 2:00.28 was slightly off the track record of 1:59.54 for 11⁄4 miles.

The last horse to win 3-year-old male championship honors and bypass the Triple Crown races did so in 2000. That champion was Tiznow. The son of Cee’s Tizzy had not even broken his maiden until May 31 of his sophomore year at Hollywood Park. Then he went on a tear through the second half of the racing year, winning the Affirmed Handicap (gr. III), Super Derby (gr. I), and the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II) before capturing his first of back-to-back victories in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). Prior to the Super Derby, he would also place second in the Swaps Stakes and the Pacific Classic (both gr. I).

Not only did Tiznow become the champion 3-year-old male, but he also took Horse of the Year honors.

What race fans didn’t get to see last year and what they are hoping to see this year will be a head-to-head between still-undefeated Shared Belief and his rival for end-of-the-year honors. No one wants to speculate about what-ifs. Competition tells the tale and fortunately we may not have to wait for the Classic. For some time, California Chrome’s path to the Classic has been expected to pass through Parx Racing and its $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) Sept. 20. Recently Hollendorfer said the Pennsylvania Derby was a serious consideration for Shared Belief, too, because the race was one week earlier than the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.

Could it get any better than this? The Pennsylvania Derby could just whet the appetite for an ultimate showdown in the Classic with everything on the line. Should Shared Belief beat California Chrome in the Pennsylvania Derby, we could get a Classic grudge match—a chance for redemption or to claim unmitigated supremacy. And not just for the 3-year-old male champion title but possibly a golden Horse of the Year trophy to go with it. 

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