by Laura Pugh

Many familiar names from 2014 are expected to race in 2015, and not just later in the year, either. The connections of several stars have mentioned the $500,000 San Antonio Stakes, on February 7, at Santa Anita Park, as a potential starting point for their 2015 campaigns.

Those stars happen to be the trio of three-year-old male Horse of the Year candidates Bayern, California Chrome, and Shared Belief. With ten Grade 1 wins among them lifetime, these three rivals have everyone salivating for a potential “Classic” rematch.

The trio has been the topic of heated discussion for the champion three-year-old male Eclipse as well as the Horse of the Year gold statuette. All three would be coming into their four-year-old debuts in the San Antonio off Grade 1 wins, with Bayern having the added oomph of accomplishing his at the expense of the other two when winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race in which California Chrome finished third and Shared Belief fourth.

California Chrome went on to win the Hollywood Derby on turf while Shared Belief won the Malibu Stakes going seven furlongs, so the San Antonio at 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Santa Anita would mark a return to preferred settings for all competitors, as both California Chrome (Santa Anita Derby) and Shared Belief (Awesome Again) have nine-furlong, Grade1 victories on the Santa Anita main track.

The San Antonio could take on added meaning if it ends up being the only meeting between the trio before the Breeders’ Cup since Bayern could target the $10-million Dubai World Cup, and all three trainers have no problem shipping their horses in general.

So will we see these three in the San Antonio gate? I fear the thought might be too good to be true. Is such an early-season challenge in the best interest of all three horses if they all go? Who could play spoiler and not show up?

California Chrome has been pointing to this since he took the Hollywood Derby. Trainer Art Sherman very much wants to run his star in the Santa Anita Handicap and believes this is the perfect prep, so I see the Kentucky Derby winner as the most likely to race in the San Antonio.

Racing Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert wants Bayern tested before giving a firm decision on the Dubai World Cup, so a race against California Chrome would be the perfect measuring stick.

Jerry Hollendorfer, another Hall of Famer and trainer of Shared Belief, has made the fewest plans, and considering the champion gelding’s known foot issues his might be the most “game time” decision of all.

So, what do you think? Is this rematch made in heaven too good to be true? Will all three show up? Or, will one of the big three bow out? Time will tell, as the inevitable drama of this story unfolds.

The racing bug bit Delaware native Laura Pugh in 2002 during War Emblem’s Triple Crown chase. She began blogging in 2008, and her work has previously appeared on Horse Racing Nation.