Time has passed, but the memories live on.
Memories of a nearly-black Thoroughbred, a champion, lengthening his stride and charging toward the finish line. Memories of his legs pumping like pistons, faster and faster, in pursuit of victory on Saturday afternoons at Santa Anita … Del Mar … Golden Gate Fields … Hollywood Park.
Years have gone by. Racetracks have come and gone. Racing surfaces have been torn up, replaced, reconfigured. The details, the order of events, start to blur with the passing of time. But memories of that gallant black Thoroughbred still linger. Ask any racing fan, and you’ll find they all share the same belief; the belief that the star-crossed Shared Belief could have been – would have been – one of the greats, if only his story hadn’t been cut short.
Victory rarely eluded the son of Candy Ride. From the moment he won his first race at Golden Gate Fields on Oct. 19, 2013, he exuded the presence of an elite racehorse. Dashing three-quarters of a mile on the synthetic Tapeta Footings surface, Shared Belief won by seven lengths, no questions asked.
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, for decades a leading trainer at Golden Gate Fields, quickly took notice of Shared Belief’s stunning debut. He arranged to privately purchase the young gelding from his breeders, Pam and Marty Wygod, putting together a new partnership that included Hollendorfer, Jungle Racing, George Todaro, Alex Solis II, Jason Litt, and Kevin Nish.
Under Hollendorfer’s tutelage, Shared Belief went from maiden winner to champion in barely two months, a testament to the talent of both horse and horseman. Handicappers and bettors — those masters of stats and data – would say Shared Belief dominated the Hollywood Prevue Stakes by 7 ¾ lengths. Accuracy is fine and dandy, but in this case, the more precise description might be a less technical one – Shared Belief won by whatever margin he pleased.
Eleven 2-year-olds faced Shared Belief in the CashCall Futurity. He confidently smashed them all by nearly a half-dozen lengths. Unbeaten, unchallenged, a Grade 1 winner – Shared Belief wasn’t a large horse by any means, but he certainly cast a large shadow over his opposition. Year-end award voters declared him the champion 2-year-old male of 2013.
Oh, what might have been. Hopes were high as Shared Belief went into winter as the early favorite for the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Visions of Triple Crown glory danced in the ever-optimistic minds of racing fans and handicappers. Here was a horse with the brilliance, the talent, and the pedigree to join the ranks of racing’s unforgettable elite.
Thinking back, the memories are still there. They dance on the edge of consciousness like Thoroughbreds galloping in the morning mist; emerging like flashes in the light of the rising sun before fading just as quickly as they appeared.
Memories of the unfortunate foot issues that derailed Shared Belief’s Triple Crown aspirations. A quarter crack. An abscess. Missed workouts. Sinking feelings of disappointment as the winter wore on and Shared Belief skipped all the Kentucky Derby prep races.
Memories of Shared Belief’s triumphant return in a short sprint at Golden Gate Fields. It was only an allowance race, but his effortless victory felt as significant as any Grade 1 triumph.
Memories of the Los Alamitos Derby, when Shared Belief first partnered with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. The gelding was trying dirt for the first time, and stretching out to 1 1/8 miles, but down the stretch his strides came as strongly as ever. Again, he could have won by any margin he pleased. He chose 4 ¼ lengths.
Memories of Shared Belief barnstorming past eight-time Grade 1 winner Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic, crushing his elders with complete authority. Here was no ordinary 3-year-old; indeed, no ordinary Thoroughbred. Here was a budding superstar, with only the sky as the limit to his potential.
Memories of his gritty triumph in the Awesome Again Stakes, when he was forced to run extremely wide on both turns. For the first time, Shared Belief had to dig deep, find something extra, and strain for victory rather than cruise home an uncontested winner. The tactics of his rivals caused an uproar among racing fans, and an average horse would have thrown in the towel. But there was nothing average about Shared Belief – not his talent, not his heart, not his determination. Down the Santa Anita homestretch, Shared Belief bared his soul to win by a neck.
Not every race ended in glory. Memories of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic are still as vivid as the day the race unfolded. Memories of the controversial start, when eventual winner Bayern took a left-hand turn out of the gate and slammed into Shared Belief. Of the rough run down the homestretch for the first time, when Shared Belief was repeatedly bounced about in traffic, even clipping heels. Of the tenacity with which Shared Belief, despite these obstacles, fought on to finish fourth against a stellar field.
No one ever got the better of Shared Belief in a dogfight. He was a tiny terror in close combat, holding his own and refusing to give an inch when push came to shove. He could sprint with the sprinters, as he showed when fighting off multiple challengers to win the Malibu Stakes. He could out-stay the classiest route runners, famously wearing down two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome to win the San Antonio Invitational Stakes.
Occasionally, there would be moments of pure majesty. On March 7, 2015, on a sunny day at Santa Anita, Shared Belief unleashed a brilliant burst of speed of obliterate a dozen rivals in the historic Santa Anita Handicap. With the San Gabriel Mountains serving as a poetic backdrop, Shared Belief galloped down the homestretch alone, unchallenged, the cream of the crop and the toast of the racing world.
It was a glorious victory. It was also his last.
Memories of the Charles Town Classic flit about in shadowy corners of the subconscious. Memories of Shared Belief’s stumble at the start, of his sluggish strides, and of Mike Smith pulling up the rising star halfway through the race. Of waiting with worry for news of Shared Belief’s condition. Of Smith walking away alone – covered in dirt, saddle and saddlecloth in hand – without his equine companion.
Shared Belief was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture in his hip. No surgery was needed, and a full recovery was expected. The months went by, Shared Belief healed, and he resumed training none the worse for wear.
Racing fans eagerly awaited a comeback that would never come.
On the morning of Dec. 3, 2015, Shared Belief was stricken with colic. He was rushed in for emergency surgery at the University of California-Davis, but efforts to save him proved futile.
The champ, who never lost a fair fight, was gone.
Words of praise for Shared Belief flowed as freely as tears as his connections, his fans, and his followers mourned the loss of a great horse gone too soon.
“He was so good; he never seemed real,” remarked Alex Solis II in the BloodHorse of Dec. 12/19, 2015. “He wasn’t a big horse, but he turned out to be bigger than life, the kind of special horse you dream about.”
The news hit Mike Smith hard. By pulling up Shared Belief in the Charles Town Classic, he had possibly saved the gelding from catastrophic injury. But no one can predict or completely prevent the onset of colic.
“I can’t stop crying right now. Shared Belief was one of the greatest and most special horses that I have ever ridden,” Smith wrote on his Facebook page. “Every day I woke up looking forward to being reunited with him. I am so thankful that I got to be a part of his life.”
Years have passed since Shared Belief’s untimely departure. Careers have unfolded, memorable races have been run, history has been made. Great horses have emerged, Triple Crowns have been won, legacies have been cemented.
Yet memories of the little black Thoroughbred still linger.
Questions of “what if” and “what might have been” still hover in the air, even as racing goes on at Santa Anita, Del Mar, Golden Gate Fields. Every once in a while, an inexperienced juvenile scores a powerful debut victory, and comparisons are made to the black bolt of lightning who struck on Oct. 19, 2013. Racing fans excitedly watch and wonder, could this be the next Shared Belief?
For a moment, you ponder the possibility. Then those stubborn memories come flooding back, and the answer is obvious.
No, you conclude with a shake of your head. That would be impossible.
- Born on Feb. 15, 2011, Shared Belief was a son of Candy Ride out of the Storm Cat mare Common Hope.
- Shared Belief’s final career tally stood at 10 wins from 12 starts, with earnings of $2,932,200.
- With his victory in the 2015 Santa Anita Handicap, Shared Belief became the first champion juvenile to win a Grade 1 at age 4 or older since Easy Goer in 1990.
- Shared Belief showcased remarkable versatility throughout his career. In addition to winning Grade 1 races both sprinting and routing, he scored victories over four different racing surfaces (dirt, Tapeta, Cushion Track, and Polytrack.)