07/03/2014 3:54PM

Shared Belief tries dirt in Los Alamitos Derby

Vassar Photography
Shared Belief, under Russell Baze, wins an allowance race at Golden Gate Fields on May 26.

CYPRESS, Calif. – Shared Belief clinched the title of champion 2-year-old male of 2013 in his last stakes appearance, the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park last December. When he starts in Saturday’s $500,000 Los Alamitos Derby, Shared Belief can prove he still matters in the 3-year-old division.

Foot problems plagued Shared Belief earlier this year, ending chances for a start in the major stakes of the late winter and the spring’s Triple Crown. In his 3-year-old debut in an allowance race at Golden Gate Fields on May 26, Shared Belief had no trouble beating four rivals in a six-furlong race against older horses.

The Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby over 1 1/8 miles will be more difficult, a new distance, and against competition with recent accomplishments.

“This is a jump from six furlongs to a mile and an eighth,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said this week. “It’s not a perfect scenario. You have to make a choice, and that’s the decision I made.”

Shared Belief will be ridden for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the Los Alamitos Derby, which drew a field of seven. The race is the richest of the two-week summer meeting at Los Alamitos and will be the first on dirt for Shared Belief. He has run twice on the Tapeta Footings synthetic track at Golden Gate Fields and ran twice on the synthetic track at Hollywood Park last fall.

[Los Alamitos Derby: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

“It’s a bit of a gamble to run on the dirt, but I’m willing to take the chance,” Hollendorfer said. “Knock on wood, we won’t have a problem.”

Hollendorfer considered other races for Shared Belief, including a start on turf at Del Mar or the $200,000 San Diego Handicap against older horses on the synthetic track at Del Mar. In the end, he opted for the last major dirt stakes for 3-year-olds in California this year. Later this summer, Shared Belief could race on the synthetic track at Del Mar or run in major stakes for 3-year-olds on dirt in another part of the country.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 5 Shared Belief. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is 7 for 18 (39 percent win rate and 14 in the money) with horses moving from synthetic surfaces to dirt and stretching from sprints to routes over the past three years. Click for more details. Matt Bernier

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“I was thinking that I’ll take it day-by-day,” Hollendorfer said. “If it works out in the second half of the year, I’ll be grateful. There are plenty of opportunities for 3-year-olds.”

There are plenty of 3-year-olds in the Los Alamitos Derby whose owners and trainers have similar aspirations.

Shared Belief will be tested by rivals such as Can the Man, who won the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on June 7; Candy Boy, who was 13th in the Kentucky Derby; and Top Fortitude and Tonito M., who were first and second in the Grade 2 Laz Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita in May and later second and eighth in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7.

Trainer Doug O’Neill has two outsiders with Friendswith K Mill and Eddie’s First, both winless in stakes.

Can the Man led throughout the Affirmed, a strategy trainer Bob Baffert expects to utilize in the Los Alamitos Derby.

“His speed is his strength, so we’ll see what he can do,” Baffert said. “I don’t know how far he wants to go.”

The quarter-mile stretch should work well for closers such as Top Fortitude and Candy Boy. Candy Boy won the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita in February and was third to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby in April. The Kentucky Derby was not a favorable experience for Candy Boy, who was in traffic in the first turn.

“He never got in a comfortable place and never got over,” trainer John Sadler said. “He never really had a shot.”

Following that race, Candy Boy was sent back to California and rested for summertime stakes.

“We wanted to come home and regroup,” Sadler said. “He’s had two really nice works, and he looks good to me.”