03/11/2015 1:55PM

Hovdey: Smith getting ‘Z’ feeling with Shared Belief

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Benoit & Associates
Mike Smith guides a very willing Shared Belief across the finish line in the Santa Anita Handicap.

It was dark in the stables of Santa Anita Park last Saturday night, deadly quiet and deserted save for the odd stirring in a stall, when out of the darkness appeared a disembodied white dot floating at the far end of the tow ring hard by the Jerry Hollendorfer barn.

As the white dot approached, a shape emerged, dark as the night around it but pushing the white dot forward until the shape became a horse walking softly with a young woman at its side. Two men emerged from the nearby shed row, and one of them approached the horse, taking it from the young woman, who smiled as she relinquished the shank. The man and the horse circled the tow ring once more before stopping at a water bucket, where the horse sniffed and then drank.

Welcome to the low-key Santa Anita Handicap after-party, during which the highlight of the mild Southern California evening was the sight of groom Armando Rodriguez beneath Shared Belief on the washrack inspecting all four feet by the glow of the flashlight app on his iPhone. His shaved head bending low, Rodriguez put the last foot down, looked up at Hollendorfer, and gave his boss the high sign.

“Good,” Hollendorfer said. “Go ahead and put him away.”

So ended the day for the best horse in America, or at least that’s what Shared Belief is being called by anyone who watched him win the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap by more than four lengths under 125 pounds two hours earlier. Mike Smith had his horse geared down at the finish in a futile attempt not “to win by too much,” as if racing secretaries around the country had lapsed suddenly into comas.

Trevor Denman dismissed such nonsense, flatly proclaiming, “This is absolute poetry in motion,” and, “He could go around again, could Shared Belief,” comments not exactly helpful in holding down the weight.

But all that is for later. Right now, Shared Belief was at the front of his stall, fiddling with his hay rack and braced for the approach of his doting majority owner, Jim Rome. The sports talk show host made a quick move to deliver a smooch to Shared Belief’s forehead, but the horse twitched, and Rome deked left, then planted one between Shared Belief’s eyes.

“Gotcha,” Rome said. “I’m good, but you’re better.”

Somehow it was comforting to know that Rome, known for his stylized, multimedia trash talk, treats his horse with the same level of high-octane attitude he heaps upon the two-legged superstars of the sports world – except for the fact that Shared Belief can do no wrong, and not just because he has now won 10 of his 11 starts.

“I just love this guy,” Rome said. “I can’t believe how lucky we are he came into our life.”

Neither can Smith, who rides Shared Belief with the confidence of a man who knows without hesitation that when he throws the switch, all the lights will come on.

“Going into the far turn, his rhythm was so much better than the horses around him, I had to go ‘no, no, no’ to keep him from doing too much,” Smith said in the jocks’ room after completing his post-race ceremonies.

By the time Smith hit the head of the stretch, the Handicap had become a matter of how far Shared Belief would win by. Moreno edged Catch a Flight in a good duel for second and probably made it closer than it should have been, but Smith, as he watched the race replay, only had eyes for his horse.

“Look at the way he throws his front legs out,” the rider said. “Even so, he always stays up underneath himself. He never gets long. Sometimes when you ask a horse to run, they turn into a wiener dog. You’ve seen them run. They can’t get their ass up underneath quick enough. With him, it’s always push, push – there’s never a drag. That’s what we used to say about Zenyatta.”

For Smith to compare anything about Shared Belief to the most famous mount of his Hall of Fame career is heady stuff. But what they have in common is an ability to overcome all of the variables that comprise the Thoroughbred experience and repeat their form in race after race after race. Art Sherman, who saddled a horse early on Handicap day and then watched Shared Belief at home, knows how tough it is to keep even the best horse on a steady beat.

Sherman would have been in the Handicap with California Chrome were it not for their upcoming date in the $10 million Dubai World Cup. He was asked what he thought of the performance of Shared Belief, who beat California Chrome in the San Antonio Stakes in February.

“Awesome,” Sherman said. “Just awesome. Right now, it looks like Chrome might be the only one out there who might be able to give him a race. I sure hope they get to meet up down the line.”

The imagination soars. And because of possible challenges down the line, against horses like California Chrome, Honor Code, Constitution, Lea, Tonalist, Wicked Strong, and the rest in a very deep talent pool, Smith and Co. are spending no time resting on their laurels.

“When you start getting too impressed with what you’ve done, that’s when you get beat,” Smith said.

Still, when it comes to Shared Belief, it’s hard not to be too impressed.

Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Looks to be an exciting year...Shared Belief and a few others just might make this sport fun again!
Dan Monroe More than 1 year ago
Hay Brandon I'm sorry SB crushed your Cali Chrome and then vaporized the classy Whitney winner Moreno. Your pain will gradually ease over time.
Lee Thorsgard More than 1 year ago
Moreno gave Shared Belief a much better race in the SAH than California Chrome did in the San Antonio. Perhaps Art Sherman needs to be reminded that the immature 3 YO's California Chrome raced against last spring and summer have come into their own. Has he forgotten Bayern who beat CC twice setting a track record in the Pennsylvania Derby? CC matured early as did his sire Lucky Pulpit who peaked in his 2 YO year. Shared Belief is regally bred and he runs and will continue to run true to his breeding. CC has hit his wall and Art Sherman should know that 2014 HOY honors is no performance guarantee for 2015. Whether or not there are better horses than Shared Belief is at this point speculation, California Chrome just isn't one of them.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Moreno gave Shared Belief a much better race? Wow. First time, I'm hearing this opinion. I have to go back and review the tape
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Trainer and Great Horseman Art Sherman needs to be reminded of nothing by any Lee Thorsgard.
Capo Capo More than 1 year ago
I would love to have been able to see a Hypothetical match up between Holy Bull and Shared Belief. The Bull never let anyone bye when he got the lead.
Wabstat More than 1 year ago
The Holy Bull who won the '94 Woodward would have run away from Shared Belief and Zenyatta too, Mike Smith knows this, but it wouldn't be popular to express... But, Shared Belief can still improve any maybe one day.
Owen Klein More than 1 year ago
Isn't there a race at the Spa for this horse. That track is "far" from Cal. But he'll still win.
saratogajunkie More than 1 year ago
Everyone in America wants to see this horse! Ship him ala Cigar ( still hate you Mandela)
Quite a More than 1 year ago
He would be undefeated had he not gotten destroyed the first 3/16ths in the Classic. He has a tremendous will to win. Very rare.
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
Destroyed is a little strong on the language. Rubbed hard but come on and I'm one who thinks Bayern should have been DQ'ed.
mrbascum More than 1 year ago
I was there when SB broke his maiden. When they were exiting the winners circle I said to the connections " that steed is going to be a champeen". Guess what, I was right!
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
You had them so convinced they immediately sold him - lol. Good call though!
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Not sure exactly what Hollendorfer's plan is with Shared Belief. Being the huge fan of SB that I am, I'd really love to see SB go run at Belmont when it opens and then run in the Whitney at Saratoga in the summer. Besides taking his show to New York and proving he can take on all comers and win, it would propel SB from currently the best horse in training to future Hall of Fame status. We all know the goal is BCC at Keeneland, so taking him on the road now is as good a time as any. By the way, CC will not win In Dubai. He'll run great, but I truly don't think he can beat African Story or Prince Bishop. Truth is no matter how he runs over there, he'll be knocked out from the trip, which is a bummer. I'm very happy SB isn't going over there this year.
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
First want to say I like reading your posts, Frank. Normally I am in 100% agreement with what you say but I have to take exception with your statement that CC won't beat those 2 horses you mentioned. What good dirt horses have those 2 faced on a dirt surface? I'm just guessing but I will venture to say very few as they haven't run over here and we have the top dirt horses in the world. Now that Meydan is dirt I see the American horses owning those races like they did prior to the synthetics. I could see CC and Bayern finishing 1-2 to be honest. And this is coming from someone who thinks both Bayern and CC are overrated.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Thanks Joe. You might be right. For sure, it'll be a great race to watch. I, of course, will root for the U.S. horses no matter what.
tommy More than 1 year ago
I like the idea that shared belief will ship to New York, but he needs to face wicked strong, tonalist, valid, honor code, private zone, constitution, VE Day, Liam's Map and beat this field just to be considered for horse of the year. As far as hall of fame status, unless he can beat African story, he doesn't deserve hall of fame status. Also if California chrome beats African story in Dubai, he instantly becomes horse of the year!!! African story in Dubai is United States secretariat!! I strongly believe African story can destroy shared belief and would be an amazing race to watch. I highly doubt African story will ship to United States to face shared belief in the breeders cup classic. And if African story were to beat shared belief in breeders cup, don't you think African story should deserve horse of the year title???
Ceil Rock More than 1 year ago
African Story raced on the new dirt track for the second time on March 7. He won at 1-1/4 miles in the time of 2:04.92. He is going to beat Cal Chrome? Really??
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
I've watched races for 50 years and this horse is right up there with the best of them. He really has it all together and since handicap racing as we knew it no longer exists it's going to take something extraterrestrial for this guy to get beat. Even if he has a bad day.
LeslieH0101 More than 1 year ago
You are so right. Reminds me of Affirmed.