03/08/2015 11:04AM

Watchmaker: Shared Belief turns in another distinguished performance

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When a horse catches a field over which he owns a massive edge, he is supposed to look good when he wins. Even though an amazing 12 lined up to face him, Shared Belief absolutely towered over his field in the Santa Anita Handicap in ways that words fall short of expressing, and he was supposed to crush that group. But what distinguished Shared Belief’s performance Saturday was the way he did what he was supposed to do.

I mean, the Big Cap is a 10-furlong race. Did Shared Belief run much more than an eighth of a mile in it, if even that? He just loped up to the leader late on the far turn, put the race completely away without drawing a deep breath between upper stretch and before the eighth pole, and then was taken well in hand. Shared Belief was supped to throttle that crew, but he did so while hardly moving a muscle. When he woke up this morning, I wonder if he even knew he ran yesterday.

And that right there should give you a greater appreciation for California Chrome. Even if he was only prepping for the Dubai World Cup, California Chrome still was only second best to Shared Belief in last month’s San Antonio. But California Chrome at least made Shared Belief work for it. At this moment, you can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of horses capable of making Shared Belief run.

I’m sure now, given how uncompetitive the Big Cap was, the chorus for Shared Belief to race outside of California for the first time will only grow louder. Right now, it looks like the people will get what they want: Both the Oaklawn Handicap and the Metropolitan Mile are on Shared Belief's agenda. Still, the two main arguments offered on why Shared Belief should ship out of his home state really don’t hold water.

Those who say Shared Belief hasn’t shipped yet are overlooking the fact that while he has not left California, he has won over five very different tracks in that state – Golden Gate, Betfair Hollywood, Los Alamitos Race Course, Del Mar, and Santa Anita. California is a big state. The distance Shared Belief covered from Golden Gate to Del Mar covers the distance from Belmont Park to Laurel and all the tracks in between. Twice.

And there are those who argue that Shared Belief might be another Lava Man, who was great in California but was unable to reproduce his best form elsewhere. We don’t know if that’s true. No one has any idea whatsoever. What we do know is that Shared Belief is a totally different individual, and it is unfair to paint him with such a broad brush.

Other Saturday notes

** If Shared Belief was the star of the day, and the best horse in America most certainly was, then Dortmund was the second star.

After his very demanding effort prevailing in a very strong running of last month’s Robert Lewis and in light of the fact that he originally wasn’t supposed to race again until next month’s Santa Anita Derby, I expected Dortmund to show some sort of form regression in the San Felipe. Nothing of the sort happened. Dortmund absolutely toyed with his San Felipe field, proving far better than the margins between him and the runner-up Prospect Park and third-place finisher Bolo (who also are two fine colts) would suggest. I know we’re going to see the return of 2-year-old champion American Pharoah this Saturday in the Rebel, and I’m excited for that. But Dortmund, for my money, is the best 3-year-old we’ve seen so far this year. And it’s not close.

** And that includes Carpe Diem, although he did everything right dominating the Tampa Bay Derby in a 3-year-old bow he also can build on. Carpe Diem is an interesting individual who has a lot of dimension to him. Despite being by Giant’s Causeway, he was good enough to win his debut going 5 1/2 furlongs last summer at Saratoga, then was good enough to stretch all the way out to 8 1/2 furlongs in his next start to dominate the Breeders’ Futurity. That Carpe Diem is this good this early speaks volumes because he’s supposed to get better with maturity and as the distances get longer.

** I was most impressed by Honor Code’s victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap because deep, deep closers like him just don’t have much success on Gulfstream’s main track. Shug McGaughey said right after the race on the track feed that he was looking forward to running Honor Code in longer races in New York. I think Honor Code will really shine in that arena. And that should answer the question of what Honor Code will be focusing on, as there are some who suggest he might be best as a one-turn closer. For what it’s worth, McGaughey has insisted repeatedly for well over a year now that Honor Code is a distance horse. I’ll go with what he says.

There seems to be a lot of love for Private Zone’s close second to Honor Code because he was under pressure setting the pace most of the way. Well, Private Zone did run well, and he’s a cool horse. However, Private Zone was completely loose through a first quarter Saturday in 23.51 seconds, which was slow even by the standards of one-mile main-track races at Gulfstream and incredibly slow for the class of horse involved.

** The initial reaction was to be disappointed in Daredevil’s second in the Swale because the winner of the Champagne was supposed to be just plain better than his field. But in actuality, Daredevil ran okay, even if his Derby prospects (such as they were; who knows how far he really wants to go) took a bruising. Daredevil just ran into a powerhouse performance from Ready for Rye, who had shown plenty of potential of his own in good efforts in his first three starts against highly regarded company.

** El Kabeir got the job done in the Gotham. I’d love to own him. But of the prominent Derby preps run so far this year, the Gotham was one of the weakest and strangest run.

** Salutos Amigos, on the other hand, was sensational winning again in the Tom Fool. Yeah, Salutos Amigos is racking up the wins on Aqueduct’s inner track against whoever can be coaxed into the gate with him. It doesn’t matter. There isn’t an active (key word there being active) sprinter who is better than Salutos Amigos right now, especially after Conquest Two Step lost in a scratch-weakened San Carlos.

** Easy inside trip or not, Stephanie’s Kitten was the definition of class in her strong score in the Hillsborough. And the runner-up Ball Dancing was pretty darn good, too. Surprise! Both are trained by Chad Brown.

** Good 2015 bows from both Ring Weekend and Summer Front in their one-two finishes in the Kilroe Mile. But you know the going in the turf divisions, both male and female, will get only much tougher as the year goes on.