Shared Belief beats California Chrome at Santa Anita Park

Shared Belief passes California Chrome in the San Antonio at Santa Anita.

Shared Belief passes California Chrome in the San Antonio at Santa Anita.

California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza. Photos by Terri Keith.

California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza. Photos by Terri Keith

In a much-anticipated match-up between two of the country’s top horses, Shared Belief won the Grade 2 San Antonio at Santa Anita Park Saturday over California Chrome, who last month was named 2014 Horse of the Year.

Odds-on favorite Shared Belief – who suffered his only defeat in nine races with a fourth-place finish in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic – finished 1 ½ lengths ahead of second-choice California Chrome, who was 6 ½ lengths ahead of third-choice Hoppertunity.

“We got an ideal trip. I thought Chrome’s rider (Victor Espinoza) moved at the right time and got to the lead at the right time. He was just saying, ‘Come and get me’ and we came and got him and that’s how it played out today,” Shared Belief’s trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, said after the race.

When asked if he felt a sense of vindication for Shared Belief’s only loss, Hollendorfer said he was “just happy to win this race and that’s the honest truth.”

“I don’t care what happened before. I care (about) what happened right now and what happens in the future,” Hollendorfer said of the 4-year-old son of Candy Ride.

Shared Belief’s jockey, Mike Smith, said he was at a loss for words following the gelding’s latest victory.

“I’m not usually at a loss for words. I don’t have a big enough vocabulary to describe that performance,” Smith said.

The Hall of Fame jockey said Shared Belief has “got to be in the top five” horses he’s ever ridden and “with room to grow.”

“There’s no telling what this horse can do and what potential he’ll reach because I think there’s still room to grow,” Smith said.

California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, said simply that Hollendorfer’s horse “ran big.”

“I just got outrun. That happens in this game. It was a great race. You just didn’t know for sure and then it looked like Jerry’s horse was the best coming down the lane,” he said.

Sherman – who said earlier this week that he had “big expectations” for the beloved 4-year-old chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit — noted that “it was just one race” and that the California Chrome team expects to have “more fun later on down the road.”

“I’m going to wait and see how he cools out and everything,” Sherman said, noting that a trip to Dubai is being considered.

The San Antonio was one of three graded stakes races Saturday at Santa Anita.

Dortmund, the 3-year-old son of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, extended his unbeaten streak to four with a win in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis.

It was the second time Dortmund edged out Firing Line by a head. The two had previously raced against each other Dec. 20 in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity.

“I thought for an instant I felt (like) Bill Belichick of the (New England) Patriots,” Baffert said of seeing Firing Line come up on Dortmund in their latest race against each other. “I thought, ‘Oh, man, that’s too bad.’ It looked like that horse was just going by him and then he (Dortmund) is such a fighter he just kicked in.”

He noted that Dortmund’s next start may not come until the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby April 4.

While Victor Espinoza was a runner-up with California Chrome, he won the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes on the turf aboard Finnegans Wake. Power Ped and Power Foot were placed second and third after the initial second-place finisher Diamond Bachelor – who was the longest shot on the board at 46-1 — was disqualified to fourth.

Horse Bits:

 Shared Belief’s trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, noted that California Chrome “has a big following, deservedly so” and said he “deserved to be Horse of the Year” in 2014. Shared Belief was champion 2-year-old male in 2013 and was in the running for 2014’s 3-year-old male title, which was won by California Chrome.

 Dortmund’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said the chestnut colt is a fighter like 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm was. “Silver Charm was a fighter. He fought really hard like that,” Baffert said. Beverly Lewis, who with her husband, Bob, campaigned the popular gray horse, was on hand for Saturday’s race.