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Chrome, Shared Belief showdown makes for a Classic at Breeders’ Cup

California Chrome, with exercise rider Willie Delgado, take in the sights before a training session Tuesday at Santa Anita.
California Chrome, with exercise rider Willie Delgado, take in the sights before a training session Tuesday at Santa Anita. The Associated Press

California Chrome and Shared Belief have so much in common and yet could not be more different. They’re the same age and share the same home state, yet they’ve never met – until Saturday in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

They’re the headliners of Breeders’ Cup XXXI, the Super Bowl of horse racing, but they took different routes to America’s richest race.

“We didn’t hook up earlier because of circumstances,” said Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Shared Belief, expected to be the betting favorite. “It’s pretty amazing that these two horses haven’t met yet.”

Undefeated in seven starts, Shared Belief tops a stellar field of 14 with California Chrome the likely second betting choice.

In a sport dominated by bluegrass blue bloods, both horses have a deep connection to Northern California, starting with their trainers.

“Me and Jerry, we’ve been friends for 35 years,” said Art Sherman, California Chrome’s 77-year-old trainer. “It’s kind of cool we’re going to hook up at the head of the stretch.”

Both horses have come back from hoof injuries, but that’s where the similarities end. California Chrome, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, is a big handsome redhead with a national fan base. Over the summer, he’s grown 2 inches and now weighs more than 1,100 pounds.

“To campaign through the Triple Crown is very demanding,” Sherman said. “It’s hard on a horse; three tough races in five weeks. You’ve got to have a super horse to go through that sort of trial.”

Only two Derby winners have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic the same season: Sunday Silence in 1989 and Unbridled in 1990.

California Chrome’s back story already has become legendary. He’s owned by his first-time breeders Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev. So far, their star colt has won more than $3.5 million.

“For them, it’s like winning the Lotto,” Sherman said.

“(A Classic win by Chrome) would mean a lot to horse racing, especially to small (breeders and owners),” Steve Coburn said. “A year ago, we never thought we’d be back here. He ran on the (2013 Breeders’ Cup) undercard (finishing sixth in a California-bred stakes). It’s like coming full circle.”

Coming off two losses, Chrome may be retired after the Classic if he puts in a third consecutive subpar effort. Coburn hopes that won’t be the case. A good effort and the horse likely will be back to race next year.

“He has nothing to prove to anybody,” Coburn said. “I just want them all to come home safe.”

A son of bargain-priced sire Lucky Pulpit, California Chrome will try to become the second California-bred colt to win the Classic. Tiznow won back-to-back Classics in 2000 and 2001. The two stars share a connection; both were born and raised at Harris Farms in Coalinga.

Visually, Shared Belief is Chrome’s opposite. A scrappy little dude, the near-black gelding looks not much bigger than a stable pony. A son of Kentucky stallion Candy Ride, he was bred to be great, but a fiery disposition led to his being geld. He’s owned by a partnership that includes Hollendorfer and radio host Jim Rome.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much money you put in, that jewel can come in,” Hollendorfer said. “Art’s got one of the best horses in the country. I’m 68 and training one of the best horses in the country.”

More is on the line than big bucks.

“It’s really coming down to the nitty-gritty,” Sherman said. “Whoever wins this race really should be Horse of the Year. And Jerry’s horse, he’s the real McCoy.”

As racing’s world championship, the Classic brings together seven 3-year-olds and seven older horses. Also among the 3-year-olds are Horse of the Year candidates Tonalist and Bayern, the only horses in the race to beat California Chrome this year.

“We’ve got the best crop of 3-year-olds I’ve seen in a long time,” Sherman said. “Now, everybody comes together.”

That 3-year-old theme held true Friday when Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable ($5.20 to win) prevailed against her elders in the $2 million Distaff. Other Friday winners – all in $1 million Breeders’ Cup stakes – were Goldencents (Dirt Mile), Hootenanny (Juvenile Turf) and Lady Eli (Juvenile Fillies Turf).

Rain was expected to dampen Santa Anita overnight, but the track should be in good shape for Saturday’s nine Cup races.

“I don’t think (rain) will be a factor,” Hollendorfer said. “I just want to win.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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