08/24/2014 8:03PM

Shared Belief wins sixth straight with big score in Pacific Classic

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Shared Belief overcame a rough start to track down nine rivals Sunday in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The debate for champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year just got a whole lot more heated after Shared Belief, in a powerful performance, overcame a bad start and nine rivals to win his first start going 1 1/4 miles while keeping his perfect record intact in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday at Del Mar.

Shared Belief ($4.40), the favorite, awkwardly brushed the side of the gate at the start but showed the quickness of a running back to get back into the race and knife through a hole on the far turn to secure a striking position. He took over from Toast of New York coming into the lane and went on to prevail by 2 3/4 lengths in 2:00.28 on Polytrack.

He was ridden by Mike Smith, who has had a sensational meeting and capped off a brilliant day in which he won four races and two stakes.

Jockey Victor Espinoza, aboard Toast of New York, stood up briefly in the irons when Shared Belief went by him in upper stretch, which caused the stewards to post the inquiry sign. But after reviewing the videotape, they rightly left the result alone.

Jim Rome, the radio and television sports personality whose Jungle Racing is the majority owner of Shared Belief, said in the winner’s circle that the greatest two words he heard were track announcer Trevor Denman saying, “No change.”

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Toast of New York was the only other 3-year-old in the race, so the youngsters finished one-two. He finished 2 1/4 lengths in front of the third-place Imperative.

Game On Dude, the defending race winner, tired to finish fourth, a neck behind Imperative, after being pressured by the longshot Mystery Train through fractions of 22.49 seconds, 45.75, and 1:10.08 for the first six furlongs.

Irish Surf was fifth and was followed, in order, by Majestic Harbor, Ice Cream Truck, You Know I Know, Mystery Train, and Clubhouse Ride. Frac Daddy was scratched Saturday.

Mystery Train finished more than 37 lengths behind Game On Dude, underscoring how well Game On Dude ran despite the blazing fractions.

But Shared Belief did not have it easy, either, and his versatility and adaptability were key factors in his victory.

“He bounced off the gate,” said Smith, who chose Shared Belief over Game On Dude for this race. “Not only is he running against the toughest bunch he’s ever faced, but now he’s given them a head start.”

Smith hadn’t planned on being that far back, he said, but he followed Toast of New York the early part of the race because he knew that horse “was proven on synthetic,” referring to his victory in the United Arab Emirates Derby in March.

“The question was would I have the horse when I needed him,” Smith said. “I had more.”

Shared Belief sliced between runners on the far turn like LeSean McCoy, then emerged in the clear, three paths wide, with Game On Dude inside and Toast of New York between them. After straightening away in the lane, he left them and drew off.

“All along, we never knew how good he was because he was winning those races with ease,” Smith said. “You hope they’ll continue to go forward. But to give them four lengths at the start and win like that was impressive.”

Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Shared Belief and is one of the co-owners of the horse, said what impressed him most Sunday was that Shared Belief came from well off the pace.

“He showed another dimension,” Hollendorfer said.

Asked if Shared Belief was the best horse he’s trained, Hollendorfer said, “I wouldn’t want to say. But he’s getting close.”

Shared Belief has now won all six of his starts. He won three races last year, including the Cash Call Futurity, which secured for him the Eclipse Award as champion male 2-year-old.

Shared Belief entered this year as one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby, but a foot bruise and subsequent quarter crack knocked him out of training early in the year. Since returning to racing in May, he has won all three of his races.

Shared Belief is eligible for a $1 million bonus, the Bolton Challenge, new this year for a horse who can sweep the Los Alamitos Derby, Pacific Classic, and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Shared Belief is two-thirds of the way there.

The Pacific Classic offered a fees-paid berth to the Nov. 1 BC Classic through the Win and You’re In program. Hollendorfer said he envisioned one more start for Shared Belief before the BC Classic.

If Shared Belief stays on his present course and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome makes a successful comeback next month in the Pennsylvania Derby, the BC Classic would likely decide Horse of the Year – as well as who is the best 3-year-old in California.