10/30/2014 4:50PM

Beyer: Shared Belief gets nod despite short price

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Barbara D. Livingston
Shared Belief is a logical favorite to rely on in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

When California Chrome was trying to sweep the Triple Crown this spring, many racing fans anticipated that his 3-year-old campaign would be a historic one ending with a triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The celebrated colt will indeed complete his season in the Classic, but not as the undisputed star of the show at Santa Anita on Saturday. He is merely one of four colts vying for the 3-year-old championship and Horse of the Year title as well as a $5 million purse. Like most of the 13 Breeders’ Cup events Friday and Saturday, the Classic is a competitive race, a challenging puzzle for handicappers. And none of the entrants is more puzzling than California Chrome.

After his much-acclaimed victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, California Chrome lost the Belmont Stakes to Tonalist – a forgivable defeat, perhaps. Following a rest, he came east to tune up for the Breeders’ Cup in the Pennsylvania Derby and delivered a lackluster performance behind the runaway winner, Bayern.

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California Chrome faces Tonalist and Bayern again, as well as Shared Belief, who missed the Triple Crown with a foot injury but comes into the Classic with a 7-for-7 career record that will make him the post-time favorite.

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Trainer Art Sherman said California Chrome’s bad performance in suburban Philadelphia was an aberration. “He didn’t have a good trip at all,” the veteran conditioner said. “You didn’t see the Chrome that I know.” He insisted that his colt has been training well and is ready to deliver.

Bettors ought to be skeptical. It is hard to feel confident about a horse who hasn’t run a good race since May. And even if he returned to top form, is that form good enough? With the benefit of hindsight, it is apparent that the horses behind California Chrome in the Triple Crown were a weak bunch. (The second-place finishers in the Derby and Preakness have a combined 0-for-15 record in stakes competition.)

Bayern’s front-running wins in the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby and Haskell Invitational were faster – from a speed-figure standpoint – than any race California Chrome has ever run. But Bayern was aided by a bias at Parx (the renamed Philadelphia Park) that gave an almost insuperable advantage to speed horses on the rail. He will face a much more difficult challenge in the 1 1/4-mile Classic; he was trounced in his only previous effort at that distance.

Unlike Bayern, Tonalist’s forte is running 1 1/4 miles or longer. Unlike California Chrome, Tonalist is clearly in peak condition. He overcame trouble to win his last start, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he was beating a subpar field by the standards of that historic event. And while the Gold Cup was his third straight victory over the sweeping Belmont course, Tonalist is 1 for 5 everywhere else.

Shared Belief’s perfect record speaks for itself – almost. He won all of his races authoritatively until his last start at Santa Anita, where rivals appeared to conspire against him and forced him to race very wide all the way around the track. Nevertheless, he won by a neck. It was a good effort but not nearly as impressive as his dominant victory in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, where he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 115 – the best by any colt of his generation. That race was on a synthetic surface, as were four of the colt’s other wins, and he might be a better horse on synthetics than he is on dirt. Nevertheless, if a handicapper is prepared (as I am) to eliminate California Chrome and Bayern, he is the almost-inescapable choice to win Saturday.

My Classic picks: 1. Shared Belief, 2. Tonalist, 3. Zivo.

Nobody should like to pick or bet a favorite to win in the Breeders’ Cup because this event so often produces substantial payoffs on horses with solid handicapping merit. From a wagering standpoint, several races on Saturday’s card are more interesting than the Classic because the favorites appear vulnerable.

JUVENILE FILLIES: Angela Renee and Conquest Eclipse are the top two choices on the morning line after finishing 1-2 in a prep race at Santa Anita. Both benefited from perfect, ground-saving trips as they beat an unexceptional field. The Juvenile Fillies is made to order for an upset.

Cristina’s Journey battled for the lead in a fast pace and drew away to win a stakes at Churchill Downs – an effort that was much better than it may look on paper. But the most intriguing entrant is Puca, who cruised to 16-length victory against a modest maiden field at Belmont. Going directly from a maiden race to a Grade 1 is an aggressive step, but trainer Bill Mott – a winner of nine Breeders’ Cup events – doesn’t make moves like this rashly.

FILLY AND MARE SPRINT: Stonetastic won a Saratoga stakes race by eight lengths with a dazzling speed figure but disappointed as the favorite in her most recent start at Keeneland. In that race, she got involved in a suicidal duel with another ultra-quick filly, running a half-mile in 44.51 seconds, and she understandably weakened at the end. She won’t be subjected to such pressure in this seven-furlong event, and she can control it from start to finish. I’ll play an exacta coupling her with Artemis Agrotera, but if she is anything near her 8-1 morning-line price, Stonetastic is the bet of the day.

JUVENILE: Daredevil scored a brilliant victory in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, earning a Beyer of 107. But there are two reasons for skepticism about him: Both of Daredevil’s two career wins have come over sloppy tracks, and his trainer, Todd Pletcher, has a surprisingly poor 7-for-103 record in the Breeders’ Cup.

Upstart finished second behind Daredevil in the Champagne after winning his two prior starts on fast tracks. His speed figure, 102, is good enough to beat everybody else in the Juvenile. Listed at 8-1 on the morning line, he has a good chance to turn the tables on Daredevil over a fast track.

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