02/05/2015 1:18PM

San Antonio matches pair of champions

Benoit & Associates
California Chrome ended his 2014 season with this win in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The matchup is almost too good to be true.

The champions California Chrome, voted 2014 Horse of the Year, and Shared Belief, the outstanding 2-year-old male of 2013, meet for the second time in Saturday’s $500,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita. It is an encounter that everyone from casual racing fans to diehard enthusiasts will embrace.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Art Sherman, who trains California Chrome. “I want a fair shake for both of us at the head of the stretch with no excuses.”

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The Grade 2 San Antonio could be their last meeting for a while. In March, California Chrome and Shared Belief are expected to race on opposite sides of the world. California Chrome is likely to run in the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates on March 28. Shared Belief is a candidate for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.

If that happens, the two are unlikely to meet again until the summer. Saturday is the day when one of them can stake a position as an early-season leader in the older-male division.

“The fans want to see this,” said Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Shared Belief. “Timing-wise, this is the race that fits into the program of both horses. That’s the way racing is supposed to be. The races are supposed to be competitive.”

The San Antonio is the top race on a strong nine-race program which begins at 12:30 p.m. Pacific and includes the $200,000 San Marcos Stakes for older horses on turf and the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds. The San Antonio Stakes is part of a two-hour program on Fox Sports 1 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Pacific which also includes the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

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California Chrome, who races for Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, is likely to be a slight favorite over Shared Belief in the San Antonio Stakes, run at 1 1/8 miles. The race drew nine runners, including the improving Hoppertunity, the winner of the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November.

All three won their last start – California Chrome in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar on Nov. 29, Shared Belief in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes here Dec. 26, and Hoppertunity in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes here Jan. 10.

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For California Chrome and Shared Belief, the San Antonio is their first meeting since they were third and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic behind Bayern here Nov. 1. Bayern will not start in the San Antonio because of a minor foot injury he sustained last month.


California Chrome (Last 3 Beyers: 96-113-98)

◗ In the last year, California Chrome has become a fan favorite for winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes last spring, and for his blue-collar bloodlines – he is from an $8,000 mare bred to a $2,500 stallion. The win in the Hollywood Derby clinched his title as Horse of the Year.

◗ Since mid-December, California Chrome has worked steadily, and maybe too easily, at Sherman’s base at Los Alamitos. California Chrome was not fully extended by jockey Victor Espinoza in several of his works but still recorded sharp times.

◗ Espinoza thinks California Chrome is stronger than he was as a 3-year-old in 2014. Sherman is hoping he is right.

“I get a little bit concerned,” Sherman said this week. “I’d like to see him get more out of his works. Maybe I’m a little overcautious. He really runs good fresh, too.”

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 8 California Chrome. Trainer Art Sherman is 11-3-1-1 with a $3.20 ROI over the past three years going turf to dirt in routes. Click for more details. Dan Illman

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Shared Belief (Last 3 Beyers: 99-107-101)

◗ Owned by a partnership led by sports talk show host Jim Rome, Shared Belief has lost once in his nine-race career – having finished fourth in the BC Classic, where he was soundly bumped by Bayern shortly after the start. He rebounded to win the Malibu Stakes by a neck at seven furlongs, a distance that seems shorter than his optimum trip.

◗ Through January, Shared Belief had fast workouts on the Tapeta Footings synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields, where Hollendorfer has kept the gelding between his starts in Southern California.

◗ This week, Hollendorfer described Shared Belief’s condition as “100 percent.”

“Shared Belief has been remarkably consistent,” he said. “He’s is carrying a little more weight than he used to. Are we improved a little bit? I think so. As far as California Chrome goes, the Derby trail is a difficult trail to follow. The fact that he’s still around and running makes him a tough competitor.”