Shared Belief Heads Stacked Malibu Field at Santa Anita

More than $30 million in purse money is up for grabs during Santa Anita Park's winter meet, and the track gets the action started in stellar fashion on opening day Friday, December 26, with a trio of graded stakes.

The biggest draw on the opening day card is champion Shared Belief, who will make his final start as a sophomore in the Grade 1, $300,000 Malibu. The seven-furlong contest will go as the penultimate race on the program and features a field of 10.

Shared Belief is drastically cutting back in distance for the Malibu, having run his last four races at nine furlongs or more. The Candy Ride gelding suffered his first career loss last out in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic after being slammed at the start by eventual race winner Bayern. That followed four straight wins on the year that include the Grade 1 Awesome Again going nine furlongs at Santa Anita and Grade 1 Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles on Del Mar's synthetic Polytrack.

Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Shared Belief also captured the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby over the summer. He was crowned champion two-year-old male of 2013 after a 5 3/4-length romp in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at the now defunct Hollywood Park.

Jockey Mike Smith has been aboard for Shared Belief's past four races and will guide the dark bay from post 7 on Friday as the 123-pound top weight. The rest of the field only has to tote 118 pounds.

Among those hoping to take advantage of the weight spread is fellow Hollendorfer trainee Tamarando. The Bertrando colt showed promise as a two-year-old, taking the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, but his best effort this season came when he added the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby to his resume last February. Ridden in his past two races by Smith, including his most recent seventh on November 29 in the Grade 3 Native Diver at Del Mar, the California-bred will have Julien Leparoux in the irons as he breaks just to the inside of Shared Belief.
Midnight Hawk (outside) and Chitu face off for a fourth time this year in the Malibu.
Midnight Hawk is one of four Bob Baffert entrants in the Malibu, and will be getting the blinkers taken off following a third-place finish in an optional claiming contest on November 30 at Del Mar. The gray son of Midnight Lute captured his career debut in December 2013 by 6 1/4 lengths and, up until two races back, had finished third or better in his five 2014 efforts.

Midnight Hawk opened his sophomore season with victory in the Grade 3 Sham and proceeded to place in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis, Grade 2 San Felipe, Grade 3 Sunland Derby and Grade 3 Illinois Derby. That latter race came in April, and the gray colt wouldn't be seen in competition again until trying the Damascus on the Breeders' Cup Friday undercard. He wound up 11th in that seven-furlong event, his first off-the-board run, before returning to the top three last at Del Mar. Victor Espinoza has the call.

Fellow Baffert pupil Chitu also took a summer break after finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby. The chestnut posted just two starts before that classic, finishing second in the Robert B. Lewis and defeating Midnight Hawk by 2 1/4 length when taking the Sunland Derby. The duo stayed paired up as Chitu also contested the Damascus in his most recent race, but the Henny Hughes colt proved much better than his stablemate with a 2 1/2-length win. Joel Rosario stays aboard.

The other two Baffert runners in the Malibu are stakes winner Indianapolis, who suffered his first loss from four career starts when unplaced in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last out, and Pimpernel. Gary Stevens will be holding the reins on Indianapolis while Martin Garcia will be in Pimpernel's saddle.
The rest of the Malibu field are dual stakes-placed Conquest Two Step, stakes scorer Diamond Bachelor, Grade 2-placed Rprettyboyfloyd and Frensham.