04/16/2015 10:50AM

Jerardi: Shared Belief will need big Beyer to win at Charles Town

Shigeki Kikkawa
Shared Belief earned a career-high 111 Beyer for his Santa Anita Derby win on March 7.

American Pharoah was everything we thought he was and more. Once you put a line through his disastrous debut, the almost-certain Kentucky Derby favorite is all triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, culminating with a career-best 105 in his Arkansas Derby romp April 11.

I can hear everybody saying: “How fast would he have gone if Victor Espinoza had let him run?” There’s no way to know what might have happened, but I would be cautious. My experience is that horses under no pressure run a whole lot better than horses under pressure. That said, it is certainly going to be fun finding out just how good and how fast American Pharoah might be.

With the Derby preps over, this is certainly a calmer week, with the notable exception of America’s best horse leaving California for the first time to race in the Charles Town Classic on Saturday. The superstars are the horses who get beyond the 110 Beyer range. Shared Belief has now done it twice, including the 111 he got when winning the Santa Anita Handicap on March 7. The 4-year-old has now earned triple-digit Beyers in seven of his 11 lifetime starts.

So, what happens at Charles Town? I can’t quantify the third turn or the travel. Until proven otherwise, I suspect we will see the same horse we always see: versatile, tough, and really fast. No reason to think Shared Belief won’t hit 110 or more on the Beyer scale again. The reality is that he might have to get a number that high to win.

This is no walkover, with Moreno, always dangerous because of his early speed and multiple triple-digit Beyers; defending Charles Town Classic winner Imperative, who upset Game On Dude last year with a 107 Beyer; and General a Rod, fulfilling all the 3-year-old promise in a big way with that 104 in his first start for Todd Pletcher.

Like so many, I have loved Shared Belief since I saw him win the CashCall Futurity in late 2013. The 106 Beyer he got that day was the tip-off that he might be very special. That this is just race No. 12 for the 4-year-old, that he is a gelding, and that he is now starting to travel is great news. This is a horse who really should be winning major races for years. The Charles Town Classic is next.

I am particularly interested in Cross the Line, who will run in the Illinois Derby on Saturday. The colt had never been worse than third in five starts at Golden Gate Fields before chasing Dortmund to the stretch and finishing a well-beaten fifth in the Santa Anita Derby. Even though it was Cross the Line’s worst finish, it was easily his best race. In fact, the colt has the rare distinction of improving his speed figure in each of his six starts, going from 62 to 66, 70, 79, 82, and then 95 in the Santa Anita Derby, his first start on dirt.

Not that I need it, but I am looking for a bit more confirmation on Dortmund’s form, and I really would like to see if Cross the Line can improve his Beyer for a seventh straight time. If he does, he wins.

Whiskey Ticket got a 91 in his only start when winning his maiden a month ago at Santa Anita. And he should be prominent from the start of the Illinois Derby. The problem is that Lewys Vaporizer is also going to be prominent, coming out of a dominating sprint win in which he got a 90 Beyer in his first start as a gelding following a disastrous debut last May.

The Henry Clark at Pimlico on Saturday is the kind of handicapping puzzle you often see in mid-April – good grass horses coming off long layoffs, sprinters trying grass for the first time, horses coming from the warmth of the South as the weather finally breaks, and dirt horses entered by trainers hoping for rain.

I do not have the data to back this up, but my experience has always been that true grass horses more often run right to their best form off extended layoffs than dirt horses. Thus, I would point you toward the 8-year-old Roadhog, who is making his first start since running third in one of the Maryland Million races at Laurel Park last October. He ran in the Clark last year off a nearly identical layoff and finished second, losing by a head. His Beyer in November 2013 was 86; his Beyer in April 2014 was 89. Last October, he got a 90. On Saturday, I would expect something similar.