Can Shared Belief win the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2014?
by Trevor Whenham - 10/23/2014
It is a deep and intriguing field lining up for the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The horse that will garner the lion’s share of the attention, though, is the undefeated Shared Belief. Every other contender in the race has had at least one poor outing — and often more. Shared Belief has not taken a misstep. He has just dazzled. It does not take an active imagination to picture him winning this race, too.
It will be his toughest test to date, though, and the price is going to be ridiculously low. Bettors need to determine whether they need to accept the price and find a way to maximize profit or look to beat the favorite. So, can Shared Belief win the Breeders’ Cup Classic? Here are six factors that will have a big say in his fate:
Experience: Other than the fact that an injury kept him out of action for more than five months this past winter, you just can’t find a fault in the racing career of this horse. He was named two-year-old champion, so he obviously was strong as a juvenile. He didn’t miss a step despite the layoff, either. Six of his wins have been totally dominant, and the one that wasn’t — last time out in the Awesome Again — may have been the most impressive of all. In that race he was aggressively targeted by trainer Bob Baffert and was forced wide throughout the race. Despite that huge handicap, he still rallied to win. He overcame that adversity impressively despite not having faced much up to that point. He has won on five different tracks — including the same Santa Anita oval he will face in the Classic. He has beaten older horses twice and has won at this distance. His campaign since his return from injury has left him sharp but rested. You could find reasons to not like this horse, but his racing experience isn’t going to be one of them.
Dirt: A mild concern could be the track surface. Five of his seven wins have been on a synthetic surface. He does have two wins on dirt, though — including one at Santa Anita — so the dirt isn’t a major concern. Perhaps a bigger issue is that he has never run on anything other than a fast track, so if weather were a factor and the track was off we don’t know how he would handle it because he never has before. Given that the race is in Southern California during a drought, though, this isn’t a major concern — though I wouldn’t bet on the race before seeing an accurate forecast.
Three year old: Normally it would be a major concern that this horse was three years old heading into the Classic. This race is typically the domain of older horses — Curlin in 2007 and Raven’s Pass the next year are the only three year olds in the last 13 years to win the race. This year, though, the best of the older horses have been injured and sidelined. The four horses with the lowest odds in the Classic this year — and perhaps more — are likely to be three year olds. This has turned into an exceptional group of three year olds, so it would qualify as a fairly major upset if one of them didn’t win the race.
Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer has never won a Breeders’ Cup or Triple Crown race and has only a handful of wins in major stakes. Normally I would view that as a knock in a race like this. Hollendorfer gets the benefit of the doubt here, though. After all, his 6,746 career wins are the third most in history. He knows how to win like few before him have, and when he does have a big-time horse it is ready to run. He also is a part owner of this horse — a factor that I love because nothing motivates a trainer more than a larger-than-normal share of the purse.
Jockey: Mike Smith has been on board this horse for his last three starts, and will obviously be aboard again now. Gary Stevens in injured, so there is absolutely no other jockey I would choose to have on a horse in the Breeders’ Cup than Smith. He has won an incredible 20 Breeders’ Cup races — five more than any other jockey. Included in that is three wins last year and three previous wins in the Classic. He is at his best in big races, he has been sharp this year, and he fits the horse well. He’s a huge asset.
Race shape: Shared Belief won’t be looking to lead the race early, but he’ll want to be in contact with the lead. That leader is all but certain to be Bayern, and the pace won’t likely be soft. The horse will be called on to run aggressively early. He is also likely to have a shadow — California Chrome’s preferred running style is very similar to Shared Belief. The challenge for all three horses — the three favorites in the race, and the class of the field — will be to get the trip they need without spending too much race capital getting it.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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