12/26/2014 7:26PM

Shared Belief gets back to winning ways in Malibu

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Benoit & Associates
Shared Belief (left), with Mike Smith aboard, outgames Conquest Two Step by a neck in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Friday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Friday marked opening day at Santa Anita, and even though there are still a few days until the actual new year, for racing fans in Southern California, it’s essentially the start of the year.

It’s a time to look forward, not back, and that’s exactly what Jerry Hollendorfer wanted to do after Shared Belief won the Grade 1, $301,000 Malibu Stakes, highlight of a spectacular card at Santa Anita which was witnessed by an announced crowd of 40,810.

While many want to debate what happened in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, when the previously unbeaten Shared Belief had his best chance compromised by a rough start, Hollendorfer said he had turned the page, like with a monthly calendar.

“When you get to be 68,” Hollendorfer said while standing just outside the winner’s circle, “you can have negative thoughts, but it doesn’t do you any good. I just went on with it. I’m happy I’m not angry about it.”

Shared Belief suffered the only loss of his career in the Classic, in which he finished fourth, but he returned to action on Friday by scoring his fourth Grade 1 win, and third this year. He had to work for it, because the 72-1 longshot Conquest Two Step ran the race of his life before going down by a neck, with the high-class Chitu another half-length back in third after seven furlongs in a swift 1:20.69.

By comparison, the La Brea, for 3-year-old fillies, was run in 1:22.52 two races earlier. Hollendorfer won that race, too, with Sam’s Sister.

“We’re very happy to win two Grade 1’s today,” Hollendorfer said.

The Malibu, for 3-year-olds, was the final Grade 1 race of the year. It was not part of Hollendorfer’s plans for Shared Belief immediately after the Breeders’ Cup, but Shared Belief did so well once he got over the stress of the Classic that Hollendorfer thought he was ready to go again.

“He came out of the Breeders’ Cup pretty stiff from getting knocked around, but he got back to his old self pretty quickly,” Hollendorfer said. “You can tell watching him gallop, the way he takes hold of the bit.”

In the Malibu, Shared Belief broke alertly under jockey Mike Smith and was just back of the leaders heading down the backstretch while between horses. Chitu, with his Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Indianapolis in closest pursuit, was timed in 23.13 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, then sped through the second quarter in 22.11 seconds to reach the half-mile in 45.24 seconds.

Chitu still led narrowly with a furlong to go after six furlongs in 1:08.59, and with 150 yards to go, there were four horses across the track. Shared Belief ran the final furlong in about 12 seconds to beat Conquest Two Step. The final five furlongs of the race were run in 57.56 seconds.

“He was sitting in a good spot,” Hollendorfer said. “He was between horses, but I never had any doubt. Once a horse gets to the outside today, he seems to run really well.”

After Shared Belief, Conquest Two Step, and Chitu came, in order, Indianapolis, Frensham, Tamarando, Rprettyboyfloyd, Diamond Bachelor, and Midnight Hawk.

Shared Belief, a gelding, was the champion male 2-year-old of 2013, when he won all three of his starts. He has won five times in six starts this year. Yet it is unlikely he can wrest the 2014 male 3-year-old title from Bayern or California Chrome, let alone grab Horse of the Year, not after the Classic.

“We just put all that behind us and wanted to concentrate on this race,” said Hollendorfer, who owns Shared Belief in a partnership headed by sports talk-show host Jim Rome. “There’s nothing we can do about what happened. You just have to forget about it, remember you’ve got a good horse. He justified himself today.”

Hollendorfer said Shared Belief would remain at Santa Anita for a few more days before returning to Golden Gate Fields, where he trains between starts on that track’s synthetic Tapeta surface. It is a plan that has worked well this year, and Hollendorfer will stick with what works.

“I wish I could train him at Santa Anita," he said. "We have a full barn here. But he doesn’t get along with this track like he does Golden Gate, so we’re trying to do what’s best for him."

The opening-day crowd was boosted by a calendar giveaway for which many fans often make repeat visits through the turnstiles. Still, the place was crowded, in both the stands and the infield, and the parking lots along the backtstretch and clubhouse turn were full.

The crowd of 40,810 was a giant increase from last year’s ontrack crowd of 30,540, when opening day was a Thursday. The last time Santa Anita opened on a Friday was 2008, when 33,308 were in attendance, so this year’s number was an increase of more than 20 percent from 2008.

The overall handle was $17,026,449, far superior to last year ($13,246,238) and 2008 ($14,769,677). The all-time opening-day record is $19,004,625, set in 2005, when Santa Anita opened on a Monday.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day at Santa Anita, with cloudless, bright blue skies that perfectly framed the San Gabriel Mountains. If this was an omen for the year ahead, it was a good one.