Shared Belief faces dozen in Santa Anita Handicap
Despite beating Horse of the Year California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) convincingly in the February 7 San Antonio (G2), the once-beaten champion Shared Belief (Candy Ride) did not scare away many rivals for Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita H. (G1). The 125-pound highweight will break from post 5 in the "Big 'Cap" field of 13 over 1 1/4 miles.
While many of the nation's other leading older horses head off to Dubai later this month for the World Cup (UAE-G1), the connections of Shared Belief have preferred sticking close to home with the four-year-old gelding. He figures to be an overwhelming favorite to give jockey Mike Smith an unprecedented third straight win in the race, but the lone setback of his career came in last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) over the same track and distance when he was bumped leaving the gate in a similarly congested field.
Smith was aboard the now-retired Game On Dude in the last two editions of the Big 'Cap, including last year's stakes-record performance in a time of 1:58.17.
The most notable opponent of Shared Belief's is Moreno (Ghostzapper), who also suffered a bad break in the Breeders' Cup Classic and wound up last of 14. Some observers felt that if not for being interfered with at the start he would have challenged eventual winner Bayern (Offlee Wild), who led wire-to-wire, in the early going and perhaps changed the outcome of the race.
Moreno has had an uneven career, but earned a signature victory last August in the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga. That performance was book-ended by second-place efforts in the Suburban H. (G2) and Woodward (G2). However, the five-year-old has never won in seven tries at Santa Anita nor has he won in six attempts over 10 furlongs.
Imperative (Bernardini), seventh in last year's Big 'Cap, shocked Game On Dude and Moreno in the Charles Town Classic (G2) last April, but has placed in only two of seven subsequent starts. He has been well beaten by Shared Belief in their past four meetings.
Hard Aces (Hard Spun) was privately purchased following a four-length romp in the $72,000 Louisiana at Fair Grounds in mid-January, but is taking a big step up in class on Saturday. Also with form to find is Sr. Quisqueyano (Exclusive Quality), an upset 20-1 winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream last time.
The Big 'Cap has attracted an unusual amount of interest from several horses better known for their turf form. Dynamic Sky (Sky Mesa) captured the 1 3/8-mile Red Smith H. (G3) at Aqueduct in November, but has been unplaced in two grass outings at Santa Anita this winter. Also in this category are Patrioticandproud (Proud Citizen), runner-up in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) and San Gabriel (G2), and Diamond Bachelor (War Front), demoted from second in the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos (G2) two back.
The field is rounded out by multiple graded stakes-placed You Know I Know (Simon Pure); South American imports Bronzo (Fusaichi Pegasus), who ran fourth in the San Antonio, and Catch a Flight (Giant's Causeway), a recent first-level allowance winner; and longshots Cool Samurai (First Samurai) and Crimson Giant (Formal Gold).
The other top-level event of Saturday's 11-race program is the $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) for older grass horses. Winning Prize (Pure Prize) was victorious by a half-length in the 2014 edition, but fared poorly in an abbreviated campaign afterwards, finishing sixth in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) and Play the King (Can-G2).
The likely favorite is Summer Front (War Front), the multiple Grade 3-winning six-year-old who was runner-up in the Shoemaker Mile and Eddie Read (G1), and then fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1), in his last three trips west.
Silentio (Silent Name), second by a nose in the 2013 Kilroe and fifth last year, was a sub-par last of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) last time after being squeezed at the start. A mile is more his game as he's won or placed in many of the circuit's leading races at mile or thereabouts.
Looking to make amends for a disappointing sixth in the Twilight Derby (G2) in October is Ring Weekend (Tapit), who previously scored in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on dirt and the Saranac (G3) and Hill Prince (G3) on grass.
Another intriguing prospect is multiple Grade 3 scorer Za Approval (Ghostzapper), whose several Grade 1-placings include a second to Wise Dan (Wiseman's Ferry) in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Mile over the course and distance. He was most recently second in the Arcadia (G2), finishing ahead of returning rival Home Run Kitten (Kitten's Joy). The latter captured the Eddie D (G3) in September and is four-for-nine on the Santa Anita lawn.
Others of note are the turf sprint specialist in the Dimension (Medicean) and the veteran Mr. Commons (Artie Schiller), the runner-up in the 2012 Kilroe Mile.