12/04/2015 2:22PM

Hovdey: Death of Shared Belief hits hard

Barbara D. Livingston
Shared Belief stands with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in the paddock at Charles Town on April 18.

I was trying to remember the last time I felt so rotten about the death of a Thoroughbred.

In May 2005, I was sick to death to hear Star Over the Bay, a wondrous white tornado of a turf horse, would not be coming home from Singapore, where he broke a leg while running for some ungodly sum of money. Then, I was sick all over again when rider Tyler Baze told me Singapore’s brand of racehorse euthanasia was a bullet to the head and that he never would forget the sound of the gun.

I said my reluctant goodbyes to Lost in the Fog at Golden Gate in September 2006, when he still was battling the ravages of malignant tumors that had compromised his spleen, spine, and kidneys. There was a moment as he nibbled on grass alongside trainer Greg Gilchrist when the remarkable sprinter tried to act like his old, very fast self, but he was just putting up a brave front, and we both knew it. Three days later, he was dead.

Swale, Landaluce, Go for Wand, Eight Belles, George Washington – the list is long and very personal for many. Each of those bright Thoroughbred lights was extinguished all too soon, and each one of them cut like a knife because every death of a Thoroughbred racehorse chips away at the justification for racing them at all.

That is why it is so vital that anyone licensed to care for a racehorse should be held to the highest standards. No one has a right to own or train a Thoroughbred racehorse, but those who do have an absolute moral obligation to give them the best care possible and prepare to be held accountable if they do not.

Shared Belief died Thursday from complications of colic, a bitter, senseless end for a Thoroughbred of consummate talent. I know for a fact that Shared Belief got the best care possible from Jerry Hollendorfer and his crew, whether the horse was at Santa Anita with assistant trainer Dan Ward or at Golden Gate Fields with Janet Hollendorfer, the trainer’s wife and closest confidante.

I know Shared Belief got the best care possible because I watched his groom, Armando Rodriguez, worry over every dark brown hair, every twitch of a muscle, every grain ever left in the bottom of his tub.

I also know there will be genuine sorrow across the racing landscape at the loss of yet another equine athlete of singular ability and personal charm. Jim Rome and his partners in the ownership of Shared Belief are allowed as long a period of mourning as they need.

Shared Belief was from many angles the perfect package. He was Sugar Ray Leonard – a graceful middleweight who could drop you with a right. Out here in the West, we first got a good look at Shared Belief as a 2-year-old winning a brace of stakes late in the year. Apparently, there were others paying heed because that was his name in the envelope for the Eclipse Award.

During the summer of his 3-year-old season, Shared Belief turned the Pacific Classic into a laugher. Trevor Denman called it an “awesome performance.” Six months and a week later, as Shared Belief was dismantling the Santa Anita Handicap, Denman kicked it up a notch to “poetry in motion.” No one disagreed.

The Handicap was his final victory in a shooting-star career of just 12 starts. He only lost twice – once when he suffered a plague of interference throughout the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic and once last spring when he injured his hip leaving the gate in the Charles Town Classic. Shared Belief did not owe anyone a comeback, but he was making one anyway, and lucky us.

“There’s no telling how good he really was,” said Mike Smith, who began his eight-race run aboard Shared Belief by winning the 2014 Los Alamitos Derby. “They didn’t come any tougher than him. What happened to him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, most horses would have curled up and crawled away. He came back on and ran fourth, beaten just a few lengths. That was incredible.”

Smith has known his share of tragedy on horseback. Preakness winner Prairie Bayou broke down beneath him halfway through the 1993 Belmont Stakes. In 2001, the rider was sent flying when his classy mare Spook Express took her last steps near the end of the Matriarch Stakes over a dicey Hollywood Park turf course. His heart ached for Shared Belief – who must have experienced considerable stress from the pain of the fatal colic – and for the people at his side.

“It affects all of us but especially the ones who spent every day with him,” said Smith. “Jerry, Janet, his groom, what a terrible thing to go through. He trained great this morning and went back to the barn. Jerry left to catch a plane, and then while he was sitting at the airport, he got a call. It happened that quick. It’s just so sad that he passed. I mean, it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d gotten better but couldn’t race again. At least he could have had a life as a horse at some place like the Kentucky Horse Park.”

Smith spent Thursday afternoon watching videos of Shared Belief in action. He recalled the power, the balance, the feel of the flawless action.

Smith watched the Awesome Again, when Shared Belief was carried wide on both turns and still beat a field of tough elders. He watched the Malibu, when he dialed back to seven furlongs and beat good sprinters at their own game. He watched the San Antonio and marveled at the ease with which they dusted reigning Horse of the Year California Chrome.

“This hits you hard,” said Smith. “You have to try to remember the good times because you don’t ever get over a loss like this. You get used to it, but you never get over it.”

Tonya Stephenson More than 1 year ago
I sit here still remembering his death just 2 months ago. Shared belief is still remembered by his fans. He was a one of a kind horse. He wont be forgotten by his fans or his connections.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
This comment has been deleted
Tim More than 1 year ago
Cram your spam!
Becky Ward More than 1 year ago
Excellent article and so well said.I loved this little man,he was brilliant on the race track and so beautiful!!!I loved his spirit,that feistyness,his amazing power.When I first saw Shared Belief I said Wow!!!I was a believer!!!I have cried all weekend hearing of this tragic news and this articl is definitely a 10 tissue article!!My prayers go out to all the caretakers of this beloved horse as I know their hearts are breaking.With all of the advancements and technology in the world today something must be done to stop this horrible affliction of colic!!! RIP dear Shared Belief,you are greatly loved and missed.
Pattie Smith-Wade More than 1 year ago
Yes I know how it feels I went though losing one of my horses you never get over it
Donna Hjort More than 1 year ago
Daniel Alvarado More than 1 year ago
We as a family lost one of our horses just last week...a 6,250 claimer but it hurt(s) like losing a family member so unfortunately, I can relate to what SBs connections are going through. RIP Shared Belief
VICTOR More than 1 year ago
Remember Native Diver, wasn't long after retirement sent to Bay area, passed from colic. Don't know shipping Shared Belief back & forth to GG after races hurt him but sure didn't do him any good, cold to warm climate, ect ect...>>>>>>>>>>>
Kristopher Marshall More than 1 year ago
Native Diver never retired. He became ill vanning up to Bay Meadows after crushing the field in the Del Mar Handicap.
Marlaine Meeker More than 1 year ago
Thank you Mr. Hovdey. I am having much difficulty with with this loss also. And for some unknown reason I kept putting off my Vox Populi vote and now I know. I was honored to write in Shared Belief.
alan More than 1 year ago
EXCELLENT article!! i own a horse for pleasure riding and i went to his stall yesterday and gave him a big hug and few more carrots that normal...and then shed some tears...
Peter Murphy More than 1 year ago
Over against our disappoint when we tear up a losing ticket, we horseplayers must realize that every time a thoroughbred steps out onto the track, even for a workout , they take their life in their hands. Yes indeed Jay, sometimes it is hard to rationalize the sport. Everything possible should be done to make the sport safe for the animals that are used by us.