10/24/2014 12:53PM

Hollendorfer making all the right moves with Shared Belief

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Shared Belief, shown winning the Awesome Again Stakes, has benefited greatly from the guiding hand of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer on the road to the Breeders' Cup Classic.

ALBANY, Calif. – Shared Belief and Jerry Hollendorfer are made for each other, and they’re made like each other. Seen from afar, in the inky light here at Golden Gate Fields early one morning several days ago, they’re not very imposing – smallish, even. Yet get up close, and they swell with an intimidating presence. Try to compete with them, and you’re likely to lose.

Sometimes through karma or divine intervention, a horse falls into the hands of the trainer whose personality or life experience shaped him in ways that help him get the best out of that horse. Trainer Ron McAnally, orphaned as a youth, instinctively seemed to know how to handle the ornery traits of John Henry, who went through several trainers and owners before finding a home with McAnally. John Henry was twice Horse of the Year, including at the age of 9.

Similarly, in more recent years, the thoughtful, reflective John Shirreffs knew not to push too early with Zenyatta, who did not debut until nearly the end of her 3-year-old year yet fashioned a career that will put her alongside John Henry in the Hall of Fame.

And Charlie LoPresti has been uncannily attuned to the wants and needs of Wise Dan, with an old-school approach that includes long, rejuvenating breaks over the winter, allowing Wise Dan to perform at a top level season upon season.

With 6,746 victories through Wednesday, the 68-year-old Hollendorfer is the third-winningest trainer in racing history. He was voted into the Hall of Fame three years ago, won the Kentucky Oaks three times, won every training title at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate from 1986-2008 – 22 years! – and now has forged his way to the top of the standings in Southern California, too.

Despite these accomplishments, his work with Shared Belief might be his finest moment yet. Hollendorfer has called on all his experience and relied on the expertise of a trusted supporting crew – most notably his wife, Janet, his assistant at Golden Gate – but also had a willing, eager partner in Shared Belief. Both head into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita seemingly at the top of their games, with a chance to snare the biggest year-end prize in the sport, Horse of the Year.

The second-half success might never have happened, though, if Shared Belief, last year’s champion 2-year-old male, were pushed the first half of the year to make the Kentucky Derby or the Triple Crown. The gelding developed a foot problem that was minor at first but became a bigger issue. Rather than press on, Hollendorfer resisted the siren lure of the Derby, hit the reset button with Shared Belief, and four starts and four wins later, now will face the Triple Crown race winners California Chrome (Kentucky Derby, Preakness) and Tonalist (Belmont Stakes) in a showdown for Horse of the Year.

Shared Belief, as if reflecting his trainer’s personality, has had unwavering resolve in remaining unbeaten. Shared Belief’s tenacity was on display in the both the Pacific Classic, in which he overcame a sluggish start and traffic trouble, and the Awesome Again Stakes, in which he fought off a potential mugger. Not seen nor previously discussed but every bit as compelling is what Shared Belief has overcome: quarter cracks on the inside of both his right front and right rear hooves that have required patches and special shoeing.

Shared Belief wears a three-quarter shoe on those feet with the inside quarter of the shoe filed off. He is shod that way now out of caution and protection. Back in January, when the right front foot forced Shared Belief out of training, the work was more extensive.

“You put a screw on either side of the crack, wire it together, put a patch over it, and then when it’s together, you take the screws and wire out and just have a patch, which has held,” Hollendorfer said. “I’ve kept the patch to protect it in case he hits himself, but I don’t think that’s what caused the initial injury. Most of those things are caused by concussion.”

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Shared Belief ended his 2-year-old campaign in December with a runaway victory in the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park, a victory that brought him the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. Until then, he had trained at Golden Gate, which has a synthetic Tapeta surface, and Hollywood Park, which had a Cushion Track surface that also was synthetic but played more like a dirt course.

Shortly after that race, Shared Belief moved to Santa Anita, where Hollendorfer had to relocate his Southern California stable due to the imminent closure of Hollywood Park. Days after a five-furlong work in 1:00.40 on Jan. 3 at Santa Anita, Hollendorfer revealed that Shared Belief had a “little bit of a grabbed quarter.” The Derby became the farthest thing from his mind.

“I don’t have to work until I’m satisfied with it,” he said. “I’m not going to sacrifice anything to do that.”

In addition to being the trainer of Shared Belief, Hollendorfer also owns a piece. Jim Rome, the well-known sportscaster, is the majority owner, but all partners deferred decisions on Shared Belief’s timetable to Hollendorfer.

“It’s amazing how cordial and smoothly that part of it went,” Hollendorfer said. “If you know you have a good horse and you can’t be around for the first part of the year, you can still be around for the second half of the year.”

As it turned out, issues with the foot went south. So, Shared Belief went north.

“I wanted Janet to work on that foot,” Hollendorfer said in March. “It’s slow going. It’s almost to that perfect point. It started out as an abscess, came out the heel, then sand worked its way down in there, and it got undermined a little. We patched it. That didn’t work so well, so we had to take it off. Sometimes feet are a long and drawn-out process. If you don’t have patience, you’re going to lose a lot more time.”

Hollendorfer said he had seen this play before.

“King Glorious had it,” he recalled this week, referring to the colt who won the 1988 Hollywood Futurity and 1989 Haskell Invitational. “We’ve seen this kind of thing before and know how to fix it.”

The first signs of hope that Shared Belief would make it back occurred in late spring, when he started breezing anew.

“I feel kind of relieved, with the issues we had, to get them behind him, get him pointed in the right direction,” Hollendorfer said at the time. “I don’t feel we lost that much time.”

Hollendorfer said his wife was instrumental in Shared Belief’s return to health and his continued good health since returning to racing. That’s one of the reasons Shared Belief has stayed at Golden Gate.

“She knows feet really well and has been a big part of keeping this horse running,” Hollendorfer said of Janet, who declined to be interviewed for this article. “She probably deserves all the credit, but it’s a team effort. The shoer, everyone contributes.”

Another major part in Shared Belief’s success, Hollendorfer believes, is training him at Golden Gate between starts. He believes Tapeta, developed by former trainer Michael Dickinson, is a more forgiving surface on which to train daily for a horse who has had foot issues in the past.

It’s an usual situation, being stabled here and vanning in July, August, September, and now October for races in Southern California, but Hollendorfer said he’s “not going to change something that’s working.”

“For any business, you have to do whatever works,” he said. “This has been working.”

No one works harder than Hollendorfer, who currently has runners stabled at Golden Gate, Santa Anita, and Fairplex. He arrives at Golden Gate by 4 a.m. each day, something he learned from his mentor, Jerry Dutton.

“You tend to emulate who you worked for,” Hollendorfer said. “Dutton showed up at 4 o’clock sharp, and he expected us to beat him to the track.”

Racing “is all we do,” he said. “Maybe go out to dinner once in a while.”

He likes baseball and football and closely follows the San Francisco Giants and 49ers but hasn’t been to a game in years.

Hollendorfer’s idea of curling up with a good book is thumbing through one that says “condition” on the cover. He spends the middle part of the week in Northern California, where he has a Bay-front home in Point Richmond, from which he said they can see San Francisco, Angel Island, and Alcatraz, and usually is in Southern California on weekends, flying almost as often as the pilots on his Southwest flights.

Shared Belief is just as focused and just as relentless. Hollendorfer even gallops him in company.

“He picks it up a little because he doesn’t want horses ahead of him,” Hollendorfer said. Shared Belief is sensible around the barn, but when he is to race, he’ll get on his toes in the paddock and post parade like a prize fighter prancing into the ring. He should wear a robe instead of a saddle towel.

“He reminds me a lot of Lite Light,” Hollendorfer said, referring to the filly he trained to a Kentucky Oaks win in 1991. “From a distance, they don’t look like much, but you get up close, and you can see the way they work. He’s got a nice, deep shoulder, a good hind leg, real good balance.”

That’s one of the reasons Hollendorfer decided to go in when Shared Belief was purchased privately from owner-breeder Marty Wygod after his first start. Hollendorfer liked what he saw, but he couldn’t have imagined that Shared Belief would turn out this good or come back so well this fall.

“Everybody buys a lot of horses, and believe me, some don’t work out,” he said. “This did and more. Of course, it’s very satisfying to see how it worked out when we did the right thing. A lot of stuff doesn’t work out, but it’s not for a lack of effort. All guys back here have problems with horses and work hard at it. Horses can have problems like any other kind of athlete. A coach of a football team must go crazy every week.”

But the main reason Shared Belief is in position to win the Classic and be Horse of the Year, Hollendorfer insists, without false modesty, is Shared Belief.

“The story should be all about the horse,” Hollendorfer said. “Believe me, there’s not a trainer living that can make a bad horse run.”