Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Not even the starting gate could have prevented Shared Belief from winning Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
The lightly raced 3-year-old gelding was going against older thoroughbreds for the first time in the 1 1/4-mile stakes but was still the heavy favorite versus nine of the best runners in the country.
Shared Belief, the 6-5 favorite, banged against the gate at the start and found himself and jockey Mike Smith racing off the pace that was set by defending Pacific Classic winner Game On Dude, the 5-2 second pick.
"The first part I was farther back than I anticipated being," Smith noted "Leaving the gate his right hind end bounced off it which was not good. But two jumps later I saw that the 10 (Mystery Train) was going to put the pressure on Game On Dude, so I saw my chance to make up for it by saving all the ground I could."
Usually, Shared Belief likes to run on the front-end and set the pace, the running style that allowed him to win his three starts as a 2-year-old and be voted the 2013 Eclipse Award as juvenile champion without competing in the Breeders' Cup.
"I really didn't notice he hit the gate. I knew he came out a little funny, but I really didn't notice that. When they were going down the backside I was a little concerned because Mike was going between horses," the gelding's trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.
Shared Belief, who is partly owned by Hollendorfer and broadcaster Jim Rose, roared past his rivals in the Pacific Classic and won by nearly three-lengths in the fine time of 2:00.28 for the 1 1/4 miles on Del Mar's synthetic main track.
"Just another really good turn of foot by this horse and it's really extraordinary the way that he does that," the Hall of Fame trainer said.
"When you have horses run in these big races, everybody wants to dissect them and be critical. What people were wondering was could he come down to Del Mar and handle the mile and a quarter? He answered that question. There'll be other horses and other races in the future and we'll all be under the microscope again."
Shared Belief was making just his sixth career start on Sunday after missing the first few months of 2014 and not being able to compete in the Triple Crown events. The 3-year-old won't face Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ California Chrome until the Breeders' Cup Classic which will once again decide Horse of the Year and divisional titles.
"I've always said Thoroughbred racing is a kick in the ass and a punch in the face, and I was getting my face punched in," Rose said. "But because of those times, now good things are happening and we have an immense appreciation for it. It's incredible, it's surreal, it's spectacular. Some of the greatest days of my entire life have been spent at the track."
Shared Belief accepted the challenge to catapult himself into Eclipse Award discussions with the Pacific Classic win. The final months of 2014 should truly be interesting.