Duel set for dirt at Santa Anita track between California Chrome and Shared Belief

California Chrome and Shared Belief will enter the gate at Santa Anita ahead of a heavyweight bout that American racing fans rarely witness.

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome will face former juvenile star Shared Belief in their seasonal debuts. Al Bello / AFP
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Art Sherman just laughed because he had no idea whether it was his California Chrome, or his great rival Shared Belief, that could be likened to boxer Muhammad Ali in the San Antonio Stakes on Saturday (4am UAE, Sunday).

California Chrome and Shared Belief will enter the gate at Santa Anita ahead of a heavyweight bout that American racing fans rarely witness.

Such is the attrition rate among the Classic generation there in recent times that to have a former star juvenile, such as Shared Belief, sparring against the reigning horse of the year on their seasonal bows as four year olds is almost unheard of.

To put this into perspective, in 1960 the average number of starts for a Kentucky Derby candidate before they contested the race was 20.

These days few thoroughbreds have that many runs in a career on dirt in America.

So the United States has embraced “The Rematch”, which, if both horses remain sound throughout the season, could well become an epoch-defining rivalry to match Ali and Joe Frazier’s epic boxing fights in the 1970s.

Both horses were eclipsed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November by Bayern and Toast Of New York but won their next starts at Grade 1 level.

Where California Chrome has been inked to travel to the UAE next month to contest the Dubai World Cup, Shared Belief will stay home.

When California Chrome returns they are sure to meet again and, all being well, the Breeders’ Cup Classic will once more be the shared target.

“I’ve been wanting to meet this horse heads up for a long time,” said Sherman, 77. “I get goose bumps when I think about it, you know what I mean?

“It reminds me of when we were kids, and you had the hot rods. I just want them to have a fair shake at it, both of us be at the end of the stretch with no excuses and who goes to the wire the first.

“That’s how I’d like to see it.”

There are, though, seven other horses in the race. Bob Baffert’s Hoppertunity, the Clark Handicap winner, could threaten the hegemony of the two star horses.

Jerry Hollendorfer, Shared Belief’s trainer, is mindful of simply painting the Grade 2 event as a two-way street fight.

“I mean, that’s the way racing is supposed to be,” he said. “You know, the races are supposed to be very competitive.

“Of course, California Chrome and Shared Belief are going to get the top billing, but there are other horses that are going to run in there and you have to plan on beating them as, from our camp, we have to plan on beating them as well as California Chrome.”

California Chrome is clearly Ali, the people’s horse who draws bumper crowds and delights fans under jockey Victor Espinoza. The Shared Belief camp took several days to get over their Breeders’ Cup loss, when they were sent off favourite for the Classic but were hampered by major interference at the start.

Frazier was the brooding, angry yin to Ali’s wise-cracking, yang, but whereas Frazier would have been content at pushing Ali into the fire when his old rival lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996, Hollendorfer and Sherman are lifelong friends.

When Hollendorfer was prepping Shared Belief for his successful tilt at the Los Alamitos Derby in July under regular partner Mike Smith, it was out of Sherman’s barn that the final layer of gilt was applied.

It allowed Sherman the opportunity to get a good look at Shared Belief, but both horses have reportedly matured physically and mentally during their winter hiatus and the impression is that Shared Belief may be more forward than California Chrome for their re-emergence at this stage of the season.

“I think Chrome probably is coming into this race fine,” Sherman said. “After this race he’ll be really strong for Dubai.

“I know that he’ll have to be at his best to run with the best horses in Europe there, so this is kind of almost like a stepping stone.

“We should be coming into the World Cup in really good shape.”


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