03/05/2015 3:16PM

Shared Belief holds spotlight in Santa Anita Handicap

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Shared Belief is the 3-5 morning-line favorite for the Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – His fan base is growing, his odds are dropping, and Shared Belief is expected to solidify his position as the nation’s top older horse when he starts favored Saturday in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.

This time, Shared Belief will not share a spotlight. All the attention is on him. Following a decisive Feb. 7 victory over California Chrome in the San Antonio Stakes, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer sensed that Shared Belief’s popularity has increased to more than polite applause.

“I notice it,” the trainer said. “A lot of horses get a following. California Chrome has a huge following. In the paddock for the last race, my horse got a little clapping, and then here comes Art Sherman and California Chrome, and everybody was cheering.”

:: SANTA ANITA HANDICAP: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s Santa Anita card live

The cheers Saturday will be for Shared Belief, the 3-5 program favorite in a surprisingly large field of 13 who entered the $1 million, 1 1/4-mile Big Cap.

Shared Belief, whose rider is Mike Smith, has won 9 of 10 and earned $2,332,200. He also carries 125 pounds on Saturday, conceding four to 11 to his rivals. Still, isn’t the Big Cap a slam dunk?

“No, it’s definitely not,” Hollendorfer said. “There are a lot of horses in there, and they’re not giving any money away until after the race.”

Shared Belief’s 12 rivals include Moreno, a Grade 1-winning front-runner; Bronzo, a Group 1 winner in South America rounding into form; and recent stakes winners Hard Aces from Louisiana and Sr. Quisqueyano from Florida.

Those are not the only top horses running Saturday. Prior to the Big Cap, the last of 11 races with a post time of 5 p.m. Pacific, several competitive stakes will be run.

Prospect Park will try to knock off the unbeaten Dortmund in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-olds, race 7. The exciting 3-year-old filly Curlin’s Fox is the likely favorite at a mile on turf in the $75,000 China Doll, race 8.

Chitu has a score to settle with Conquest Two Step in the Grade 2 San Carlos at seven furlongs, race 9. Turf milers including Summer Front, Za Approval, and front-runner Holy Lute top the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, race 10.

The card will be held under sunny skies, with the high forecast to be 84.

While Shared Belief enters the Big Cap as a deserving favorite, two key rivals look to upset. Neil Drysdale trains Bronzo, a Group 1 winner from Chile fresh off a good fourth at 1 1/8 miles in the San Antonio. Bronzo raced wide, moved late, and galloped out in front of Shared Belief and California Chrome.

“We’re not under any illusion that we can beat Shared Belief,” Drysdale said before adding that Bronzo “is a mile-and-a-quarter-plus horse.”

Bronzo has won 11 of 22. Tyler Baze gains the mount from Gary Stevens, who rides allowance winner Catch a Flight.

Hard Aces, a son of Hard Spun, was purchased privately following a stakes win at Fair Grounds. He will make his first start for trainer John Sadler.

“I’m gambling he’s an improving horse,” Sadler said. “Some of the Hard Spuns are late developers.”

Hard Aces has won 5 of 19.

The Big Cap pace is likely to be set by Moreno, with Sr. Quisqueyano, Diamond Bachelor ,and Crimson Giant in pursuit. The other entrants are Cool Samurai, Patrioticandproud, You Know I Know, Dynamic Sky, and Imperative.

:: DRF Live: Watch live handicapping analysis of Saturday’s biggest races, starting at 12:30 Eastern

KEY CONTENDERS

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

◗ Golden Gate-based Shared Belief and Hollendorfer arrived Wednesday, repeating the pattern that produced Santa Anita wins in the Grade 1 Malibu and Grade 2 San Antonio. Shared Belief will return to Golden Gate following the Big Cap.

“Since he’s been running consistently, I don’t have to be quite as hard on him as I was getting him ready for the San Antonio,” Hollendorfer said. “It’s more a maintenance thing, rather than drilling on him.”

Bronzo (Last 3 Beyers: 94-87-94)

◗ Fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in his U.S. debut in November, Bronzo has been targeting the Big Cap. He finished sixth in the San Pasqual and fourth in the San Antonio.

“Those two races have helped him, plus we’re getting to know him,” Drysdale said. “I’m very pleased with the horse. Tyler Baze worked him and loved him.”

Hard Aces (Last 3 Beyers: 104-96-72)

◗ His recent four-length stakes win was validated when third-place Albano returned to win. Hard Aces arrived from Fair Grounds on Feb. 23.

“You have to [analyze] him off his last two races,” Sadler said. “Before that, he was just kind of okay. My thinking is he’s a late-developing horse. A mile and a quarter, I can tell he’s going to relish that.”

Moreno (Last 3 Beyers: 58-96-107)

◗ Trainer Eric Guillot is using the Big Cap as a prep for the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic next month. Moreno, a Grade 1 winner, underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove ankle chips following his last-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.