12/03/2015 7:11PM

For Shared Belief, a career short on races, long on highlights

Shigeki Kikkawa
Shared Belief defeated Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome in the San Antonio Stakes in February.

The news Shared Belief was euthanized on Thursday from complications of colic filled one person’s mind with memories of the 4-year-old gelding’s all-too-brief career.

In 12 starts, he won 10 times, including eight stakes. He was a champion capable of brilliant performances in sprints and at the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles.

There cannot be just one highlight. From the start of his career, Shared Belief commanded attention and nearly always performed to expectations. Not many athletes are capable of that.

The first recollection of Shared Belief occurred on the morning after the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November 2013. Many stables were thinking about wintertime plans for the big-race runners and had headed home to various points across the nation and the globe.

A visitor called in to Jerry Hollendofer’s stable, and was summoned into the Hall of Fame trainer’s office.

“Look at this new horse I just got,” Hollendorfer said.

Hollendorfer produced the one-race record of a maiden winner at Golden Gate Fields a few weeks earlier. He had purchased the gelding privately.

Within two months, Shared Belief had clinched a championship, having won the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes and the final running of the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park, just days before the track was shuttered.

The CashCall Futurity was run at 1 1/16 miles, and Shared Belief won by 5 3/4 lengths in his first start around two turns.

“I don’t like to compare my horses, but I’d have to put him near the top,” Hollendorfer said that day in the winner’s circle.

The buzz had started, but was short-lived. A foot ailment kept Shared Belief out of the 2014 Triple Crown races, and kept Hollendorfer frustrated. He watched in enviable admiration as his training colleague Art Sherman won the Kentucky Derby with California Chrome. The two go back decades.

By summer, Shared Belief was back in action, having won an allowance race at Golden Gate Fields in May and the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby in July. Then he faced older horses in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 24, 2014.

Shared Belief was favored and extended his unbeaten streak to six races, winning by 2 3/4 lengths despite striking the side of the gate at the start. He beat a group that included top older handicap horse Game On Dude, who was making his final start.

“Not only is he running against the toughest bunch he’s ever faced, but now he’s given them a head start,” jockey Mike Smith said after the race.

Shared Belief won the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita a month later, but finished fourth in a controversial running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November 2014 at Santa Anita. He was bumped soundly by eventual winner Bayern at the start of the BC Classic, and never recovered. The loss cost Shared Belief a realistic chance at the Horse of the Year title.

In the weeks after the race, Hollendorfer was reluctant to reflect on the BC Classic. He offered a few thoughts after Shared Belief won the Malibu Stakes in his next start, which came at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, 2014.

“There’s nothing we can do about what happened and so we forget about it and just remember that’s he’s a good horse,” Hollendorfer said.

That was never more vivid than last February when Shared Belief and California Chrome each made his first start of the year in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita. It was a race that matched two champions - and it lived up to the billing.

California Chrome took the lead in early stretch, but jockey Mike Smith aboard Shared Belief did not panic. Shared Belief rallied in the final furlong to win by 1 1/2 lengths in one of the finest races of the year.

“I don’t have big enough words in my vocabulary to describe what he did today,” Smith said that afternoon.

A month later, with California Chrome en route to Dubai for the World Cup, Shared Belief had little trouble beating 12 overmatched rivals in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles. He won by 4 1/4 lengths in a brilliant performance.

The Big Cap was the final win of Shared Belief’s career. Last April, he was pulled up in the Charles Town Classic with a hip injury that forced him to the sidelines through the summer. Shared Belief was nearing his first workout of the fall when he was struck with the fatal case of colic.

Hollendorfer spoke glowingly in recent weeks of Shared Belief’s progress, and his hopes for 2016. Sadly, those hopes will not be realized.