02/07/2015 7:37PM

Shared Belief defeats California Chrome in San Antonio

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Benoit Photo
Shared Belief (left) wins the San Antonio Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over California Chrome on Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

ARCADIA, Calif. – There was no time for panic.

When California Chrome took a clear lead early in early stretch of Saturday’s $590,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita, jockey Mike Smith was aboard Shared Belief in second and hoping his mount would have his customary rally through the stretch.

“He’s always had that gear, and I wondered if that gear would be good enough,” Smith said.

Shared Belief was more than good enough. The champion 2-year-old male of 2013, Shared Belief rallied in the final furlong to win the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year.

Shared Belief ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.45.

The winning strategy was ideal to winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who said he had brief concern about California Chrome’s lead in early stretch.

“I thought it was time to go get him,” Hollendorfer said. “It came up as we thought it would.”

Round 1 of a hoped-for series of big-race encounters this year went to Shared Belief, but there was belief in California Chrome’s camp that the popular colt will benefit greatly from the race.

“I saw that other horse on his hip, and he was chasing us the whole way,” said Alan Sherman, assistant trainer to his father, Art. “Maybe the other horse was fitter than we were.”

The San Antonio Stakes was California Chrome’s first start since a win Nov. 29 in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. Shared Belief had not raced since winning the Malibu Stakes here Dec. 26.

Shared Belief ($4) was a slight favorite over the 7-5 California Chrome.

As expected, both raced near the pace. Alfa Bird, a 19-1 outsider, set a pace of 23.65 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.87 for a half-mile. California Chrome was second, tracking the leader by 1 1/2 lengths and a length or two in front of Shared Belief.

Smith had Shared Belief three wide going into the first turn and found the preferred stalking position after a quarter-mile. He said there was a bit of strategy unfolding among the riders early.

“We were trying to make each other decide what to do,” he said. “The race needed to develop. We got into the rhythm of the race.”

Alfa Bird led on the backstretch but yielded his lead on the turn to California Chrome, who was challenged by Hoppertunity to his inside and Shared Belief to the outside. Hoppertunity won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November and the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes here Jan. 10 and was the 5-1 third choice in the betting for the San Antonio Stakes.

The move Hoppertunity made to reach contention on the turn was as close as he came to the lead.

“I thought I’d win,” said jockey Martin Garcia said. “I stayed the same pace, and they took off. My horse was running, but it was a tough race.”

When California Chrome turned into the stretch, he drew a tremendous cheer from the crowd of 21,522. Victor Espinoza on California Chrome knew Shared Belief would be a threat.

“I knew he was coming,” Espinoza said.

California Chrome led by a length with a furlong remaining but could not hold off his rival.

“He ran an unbelievable race,” Espinoza said of California Chrome. “He got a little tired in the end.”

Hoopertunity finished third, beaten 6 1/2 lengths for second. Bronzo finished fourth, followed by You Know I Know, Imperative, Tonito M., Alfa Bird, and Clubhouse Ride.

It could be summertime before Shared Belief and California Chrome meet again. Shared Belief is a candidate for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7. California Chrome is expected to make his next start in the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates on March 28.

Shared Belief races for a partnership led by sports talk show host Jim Rome. By Candy Ride, Shared Belief has won 9 of 10 starts and earned $2,332,200. A seven-time stakes winner, Shared Belief’s only loss was a troubled fourth behind Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic here last November. California Chrome was third in that race.

Of all Shared Belief’s starts, Hollendorfer said that the San Antonio may have been the gelding’s finest performance.

“I couldn’t argue it,” Hollendorfer said. “He’s been carrying more weight and training on a regular schedule.”

The win left Smith anxious for the Big Cap.

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