02/12/2014 3:14PM

Kentucky Derby: No sense rushing back for Shared Belief

Shigeki Kikkawa
Shared Belief, the winner of the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in December, has missed training time this year due to a foot injury.

No one knows better just how difficult it is to win the Kentucky Derby than trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. A member of racing’s Hall of Fame, Hollendorfer has won the Kentucky Oaks three times. The first Friday in May – or, in some years, the last Friday in April – he’s got that down. The first Saturday in May – that’s been more challenging.

Hollendorfer has run in the Derby five times without winning, including fifth-place finishes by Eye of the Tiger in 2003 and Chocolate Candy in 2009. But he’s also had particularly cruel setbacks the week of the race.

In 2000, Hollendorfer entered Globalize, and then the next morning at Churchill Downs, Globalize was kicked by his pony during what was to be routine exercise, incurring an injury that forced him to be scratched.

And in 1998, Hollendorfer had the horse many considered the one to beat, the unbeaten Seattle Slew colt Event of the Year, but in his final work for the race at Churchill Downs, he suffered a fracture to a knee and was sidelined.

Hollendorfer entered 2014 with the horse acknowledged as the front-runner for this year’s Kentucky Derby, Shared Belief, who won all three of his starts in 2013 and was rewarded with the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. But Shared Belief recently missed significant training time owing to a foot injury that developed into a quarter crack and needed to be patched. He’s back training at Santa Anita, but whether he comes around in time to make the Derby is another matter.

And so, Shared Belief will be conspicuous by his absence from Daily Racing Form’s inaugural Derby Watch top 20 list for 2014. Also missing is Havana, another highly regarded 2-year-old who got a late start to his preparation in Florida with trainer Todd Pletcher. Both still have time to make the Derby, since the points system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field offers its most lucrative prizes deeper into the spring. But both may need a Hail Mary to make it.

[DERBY WATCH: Top 20 list | Who's hot, who's not]

Under the old system, which utilized graded stakes earnings, both Havana and, especially, Shared Belief would have been virtually guaranteed spots in the field based on their current bank accounts.

There are other factors to consider regarding the schedules Shared Belief and Havana will have in the next couple of months and whether that gets them to the Derby.

Havana is being aimed at the Swale Stakes on March 1 at Gulfstream Park, but since that race is a sprint, it does not offer points toward the Derby. Essentially, Havana, at best, will have one shot at a two-turn prep to make the Derby field, and that’s if his connections head down that route. He might be best suited to shorter distances than the Derby’s 1 1/4 miles.

With Shared Belief, even if everything goes perfectly over the next few weeks, the chance of his making the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 8 is remote. Deeper into March, he’d have to ship, perhaps to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel Stakes on March 15, or to Turfway Park for the Spiral Stakes on Polytrack on March 22 since he has proven himself on a synthetic surface. But that’s if there are no setbacks.

“Like every horse trainer, I want to win the Derby,” Hollendorfer said this week. “He’s started galloping. He’ll probably gallop a week before we’d think of breezing him. We’ll observe and analyze all the information we see at the barn every morning. The difficulty is not doing something too soon, or too late.”

It also is important to remember that Shared Belief is a gelding. A win in the Derby does nothing to enhance his value as a stallion prospect. His value is on the racetrack, the only place he can earn money. That demands a long-term approach, not a short-term horizon. Hollendorfer owns a piece of Shared Belief. He takes a percentage of many of the horses he trains.

The Preakness is worth $1.5 million this year, compared with the Derby’s $2 million, and the Preakness field is guaranteed to be smaller, so if Shared Belief isn’t ready for the Derby on May 3 but would be spot-on for the Preakness two weeks later, that is a viable option. When a horse is nominated to the Triple Crown, the focus is always on the Derby, but it includes the Preakness as well as the Belmont on June 7.

When Shared Belief first was hurt last month, Hollendorfer said, “I’m not going to sacrifice anything to make the Derby.” He’s not wavered, and he won’t waver.

Hollendorfer’s approach is nuanced. A 2014 debut is predicated on how Shared Belief trains in the upcoming weeks. Subsequent starts will depend on how he does in his comeback. It is a day-to-day proposition. That might not satisfy those clamoring for more certitude, but how can one provide certitude if he’s not certain how it will unfold?

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

There already have been plenty of reminders of the potholes faced on the road to the Derby.

New Year’s Day, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, was injured and retired before the end of 2013. The unbeaten Indianapolis was found to have mucous in his airway this week and will miss the San Vicente Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita. Honor Code bruised his hind ankles last month at Payson Park and was sent to Gulfstream Park, where he worked Wednesday for a 2014 debut that has been delayed from the original plan, the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 22.

And even if you get through all the Derby preps unscathed, there’s still the final work to get through. And even if you get through that final work and enter the Derby, you have to hope a pony doesn’t kick your horse.

If you want to know why trainers go prematurely gray, that’s why.

– additional reporting by Steve Andersen

JeanK More than 1 year ago
True trainers may get premature grey hairs, but they usually live a long life, and a healthy one, for the most part, some do leave us too soon. Back to the horses... Hollendorfer is a a very successful trainer, but he trains too many to give every horse his personal atention, na dhe does push too hard once he gets a good 3 years old. His forte are older horses, most of his hores are in the claiming ranks. He had over 1000 starters last year, 90-95% were claimers. Sane thing with Pletcher, and he had close to 1000 even if most were stakes and allowance horses he cannot smell roses. Reason? A derby horse needs a close atention from a top trainer. The Derby is the one race you cannot produce a winner of a mill. Shug,M, might repeat this year, he does not have a 3rd of number horses of Holendorfer nor Pletcher...Pletcher has monster 40 eligible horses and he will try to get each and everyone of them to the starting gate, he has to he cannot play favorites.And he is the consumate professional. So all I'm saying if trainer has too many horses under his care, the less he has a chance of winning the Derby no matter how you shake it, look at the numbers, they do not lie.Still think the Dubai Derby would be best for Shared Belief. keep him where he wins, he popped once they got him on dirt. Hollendorfer rarely travels, but he will watch and eventually he might go in Spiral, Blue grass, then try the Derby. He has the time and the horse for that, Blue grass will be his main goal. I am certain.
Darren Fish More than 1 year ago
Offering my respect for Jerry Hollendorfer's understanding of his gelding.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
Money is only money the Derby is every horseman's dream.Seeing"Ferdinand"win under the Shoe for Whittingham was my thrill of a lifetime.
Bob Martin More than 1 year ago
Paul Aswad More than 1 year ago
my future bet is on CAIRO PRINCE. I think he will only get better.
Sol Rivera More than 1 year ago
Future bets are "Sucker Bets"
B More than 1 year ago
Being a gelding, this horse has the potential to be a good one for a long time. He doesn't need the Derby and he should not run if he has any setbacks and he already has had one. If they run him two times before the Derby starting in March and then in all three TC races, that will be 5 races in 3 months, and some of them the toughest he will ever run in. Too much.
Patricia Jones More than 1 year ago
i will make my choice when they r on the track headed to the gate
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
too bad, my theory is stay away from any horse that's hurt until he proves he can win again.
Okiesharp More than 1 year ago
Hollendorfer has said before "if they're ready, they run. If they're not they, stay in the barn".
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
As a former owner, I admire and respect Mr.Hollendorfer's total approach to his horses. The horse will usually tell a trainer when they are ready. Bravo, Mr.Hollendorfer, you could train my horses anytime. A true horseman.
John More than 1 year ago
I always remember what Charlie Whittingham told a reporter when asked about the condition of a horse, he said " a racehorse is like a basket of strawberrys, they can be fine one day and spoiled the next " Tough tough game, and we think handicapping is difficult !