09/25/2014 12:59PM

Shared Belief at top of his game for Awesome Again

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Benoit & Associates
Shared Belief trains on Tapeta at Golden Gate, but appeared to handle the Santa Anita dirt just fine over the last few days.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Thursday marked the first time in months since Shared Belief had set foot on the track at Santa Anita. The last time he was here, soon after the new year, he developed hoof problems that necessitated scrapping a spring campaign and, with it, the Triple Crown.

But eight months, three races, and one re-grown hoof later, Shared Belief is back at Santa Anita, and he appeared to effortlessly float over the track Thursday morning, giving every indication that he will be his usual formidable presence in the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

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“He does reach out a lot more on dirt,” Alex Solis II, one of his co-owners, remarked as Shared Belief galloped through the lane.

Shared Belief has been training regularly at Golden Gate Fields, which has a synthetic Tapeta surface. In both his last two wins, the Los Alamitos Derby and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, he was sent by van the week of the race to those tracks, then immediately went back north to train on a surface that obviously has helped him thrive. He arrived at Santa Anita on Wednesday for the Awesome Again, and went to the track Thursday.

Prior to galloping, Shared Belief schooled at the gate, and then after his gallop, he made a couple of trips around the walking ring in the company of a stable pony, the former racehorse Bench Points.

Other than that hoof issue back in January, Shared Belief has done nothing wrong. He won all three of his starts last year to claim the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male, and he has won all three of his starts this year, positioning him to be champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year if he can sweep the Awesome Again and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, also at Santa Anita, Nov. 1.

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To win the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again, Shared Belief will have to outrun seven others, including local stakes winners Fed Biz, Sky Kingdom, and Majestic Harbor. A wild card is Mystery Train, who has blazing early speed and is returning to dirt after fading on Polytrack in the Pacific Classic, in which he tried unsuccessfully to run with the now-retired Game On Dude.

The Awesome Again, for 3-year-olds and older, is the final local prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. On Saturday, it is one of five Grade 1, $300,000 races at Santa Anita that each offers a fees-paid berth to its respective Breeders’ Cup race through the Win and You’re In program.

The Awesome Again is the eighth race on an 11-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Pacific. The first Grade 1 race of the day is race 5, the Zenyatta, featuring Beholder, the defending winner of both that race and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Following the Zenyatta, in order, are the FrontRunner for 2-year-olds, the Rodeo Drive for female grass runners, and the Chandelier for 2-year-old fillies.

NBCSN will show the FrontRunner, Rodeo Drive, and Awesome Again live during a 2 1/2-hour telecast, beginning at 2:30 p.m. Pacific, which also includes live coverage of the Jockey Club Gold Cup from Belmont Park.

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KEY CONTENDERS

Shared Belief (Last 3 Beyers: 115-104-96)

◗ He has won all his races by at least 2 3/4 lengths (the margin of the Pacific Classic) or more.

◗ He has been able to work out trips in all his starts, even last time, when he got off to an awkward start and was in traffic trouble heading into the far turn.

◗ His acceleration in the Pacific Classic impressed rival trainer Bob Baffert. “He’s not one-dimensional,” Baffert said. “When they push the button, he gets to the other horses in a hurry.”

◗ He received six pounds (124-118) from his elders under the weight-for-age conditions of the Pacific Classic. In this race, he gets three pounds (124-121) from Majestic Harbor and Mystery Train, but must give weight to everyone else.

◗ His only previous dirt race was the Los Alamitos Derby, but he did win twice last fall at Hollywood Park on Cushion Track, which, for a synthetic surface, closely approximated dirt.

Fed Biz (Last 3 Beyers: 99-104-83)

◗ He has won going 1 1/16 miles, and is a terror between seven furlongs and one mile, and now will try to extend his range to 1 1/8 miles, a distance at which he finished third the lone time he tried it.

“I want to give him a chance stretching him out,” said Baffert, his trainer. “He’s ready to stretch out in a race like this.”

Mystery Train (Beyer: 48)

◗ He flopped in the Pacific Classic, but that was his first start on synthetic.

◗ He set fast fractions and kept going in dirt races in his native Argentina, and could prove an elusive target here.