When it comes to deciding world championships, Breeders’ Cup XXXI is much more than a two-horse race.
But a Classic showdown between Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome and undefeated Shared Belief makes Saturday’s main event a race for the ages.
Horse racing’s Super Bowl, the Breeders’ Cup returns to Santa Anita Park this week with 13 championship stakes and more than $26 million in purses. Entries were drawn Monday in Arcadia for Friday’s four Cup races and nine more Cup stakes on Saturday. Each stakes likely will decide year-end divisional honors.
The most important trophy goes to Horse of the Year, which appropriately should be determined in America’s richest race.
Looking for a change of luck in the $5 million Classic, California Chrome drew the No. 13 post in a 14-horse field; he’s the second choice at 4-1 on the morning line. Shared Belief, as the 9/5 favorite, will break from post No. 6.
“I love his post position,” trainer Art Sherman said of his Derby and Preakness winner. “We won’t have to be anchored down there (near the rail) this time. I just want to see him in contention turning for home, and we’ll see who’s best.”
Also entered are Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and Pennsylvania Derby victor Bayern, the two horses that defeated California Chrome this year. Along with Chrome and Shared Belief, any one of those four 3-year-olds is a legitimate Horse of the Year candidate.
In addition, the Classic field includes Candy Boy, Cigar Street, Footbridge, Imperative, Majestic Harbor, Moreno, Prayer for Relief, Toast of New York, V.E. Day and Zivo. Awaiting a defection, Argentina’s Big Casanova is also on the eligible list.
Post time for the Classic will be about 5:30 p.m. Saturday. NBC will televise the Classic live as part of 81/2 hours of racing coverage, spread over two days and two channels.
Expect to see plenty of Chrome. With humble Central California roots, the charismatic colt captured the hearts and imagination of fans nationwide. But consecutive losses in the Belmont Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby may have robbed Chrome of some of his luster in the spring, when he won six consecutive stakes, including two thirds of the Triple Crown.
“In his last two races, you haven’t seen the Chrome that I know,” Sherman said. “I’m just hoping (he runs his race) in the Classic. I think it’s the greatest race that we’re going to have (in the Breeders’ Cup) in quite a few years.”
Winner of eight of 14 starts, California Chrome is co-owned by his first-time breeders, Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev.
In a first, both Classic favorites have strong ties to Northern California. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Shared Belief prepared for his Classic at Golden Gate Fields. The gelding is co-owned by Hollendorfer and a partnership that includes radio host Jim Rome.
“He settles in very rapidly wherever I take him, and he’s handled every surface that we’ve put him on,” Hollendorfer said. “I like training him on the synthetic surface at Golden Gate. He trains real well on it, and it seems like it’s been an advantage for him at least to train here and then run on another surface.”
The defending 2-year-old champion, Shared Belief missed the Triple Crown because of a hoof injury. But the dark gelding emerged this summer, faster than ever. He has won all seven starts of his career and comes into the Cup off an impressive score in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita.
“It’s hard to expect a horse to be undefeated,” Hollendorfer said, “so I’m very grateful that Shared Belief has come along and done whatever we’ve asked him to do.”
Intensifying this two-horse battle, Hollendorfer and Sherman are longtime friends.
“I’ve been friends with the whole Art Sherman family for many years,” Hollendorfer said. “We’re rivals in horse racing, but we’re also friends. … We’ll continue that friendship, but when we go over there to race, we’ll be fighting it out.”
Sherman has only respect for Shared Belief.
“He’s a real race horse,” he said. “I really enjoy watching him train.
“Horse of the Year will be on the line in this race,” Sherman added. “It’s a big race for everybody, and it’ll be exciting. I’m looking forward to it. I kind of get butterflies when I think about it.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.