Before the Belmont, and especially in its aftermath, there has been considerable discussion and analysis of the quality and ranking of the leading 3-year-old colts. There is, however, no question who's the best gelding in the crop: Shared Belief.
Last year's divisional champion at 2, Shared Belief was a natural prospect for the Triple Crown but was knocked out of the classics with a foot problem. When the son of Candy Ride returned to competition in a six-furlong allowance against older horses a month ago, he showed his old flair, and the champ indicated that he is not going to hand over his Eclipse mantle without a battle by an emphatic victory in the July 5 Los Alamitos Derby.
Unbeaten in five races, Shared Belief stands as a serious challenger to California Chrome, who won a pair of classics in the absence of the dark brown son of Candy Ride and who is now having some time off before being trained for the Breeders' Cup Classic, which will again be at Santa Anita.
The possibility of a showdown between juvenile champion Shared Belief and the wildly popular Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is a great prospect for racing. It's a great story; it's interesting and dramatic.
The situation also recalls the 1966 Triple Crown and its resolution. That year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness were won by snappy colt bearing the name of Kauai King (by Native Dancer), and he accomplished the double with some elan before finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes. Is this sounding familiar?
The situation becomes almost eerily similar because the champion juvenile colt of the preceding year was Buckpasser, owned and bred by Ogden Phipps. Buckpasser was knocked off the Triple Crown trail in early 1966 by a serious quarter crack and did not return to competition until early June.
Buckpasser returned with an emphatic triumph over older horses in an allowance. Then Buckpasser went on a tear through his contemporaries and older horses, finishing the year a thoroughly proven champion and the first million-dollar winner as a 3-year-old. Among the victories Buckpasser amassed, which eventually numbered 16 in a row, were successes over every major challenger to his supremacy, including Kauai King.
Time and commentators perceived that the 3-year-olds of 1966, foals of 1963, were quite a good group, with other major winners including Abe's Hope (Better Bee), Advocator (Round Table), Amberoid (Count Amber), Boldnesian (Bold Ruler), Buffle (Zenith), Crème dela Crème (Olympia), Graustark (Ribot), Impressive (Ambiorix), Stupendous (Bold Ruler), and the leading fillies were Lady Pitt (Sword Dancer), Natashka (Ribot), Native Street (Native Dancer), Marking Time (To Market), Moccasin (Nantallah), and Priceless Gem (Hail to Reason).
Since only half of 2014 is past, it is far too early to dismiss the crop of 2011 as either better or worse than Buckpasser's lot.
One thing is certain. There are more than a few good horses on the sidelines from this crop who are taking the steps to return to the races, and perhaps their best form is yet ahead of them. Among the list of such colts who were fancied for the Derby, the top prospects include Cairo Prince, Honor Code, and Constitution, while Tonalist and Danza also have highly competitive form to challenge the highflyers of the division.
But they better put their running shoes on.
Shared Belief is progressing very well with his return to racing, and his next start is expected to be the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. That race will be an interesting challenge for a horse who still needs to prove a good deal, and the gelding's effort in that race will tell the racing public several things. First, it will place Shared Belief in some context with the older horses, and second, it will show us his form going 10 furlongs, farther than he has raced to date by a furlong.
Considering how well Shared Belief handled dirt at Los Alamitos while racing nine furlongs in 1:47.01, it seems doubtful another furlong will be an impediment. But the challenges are his to overcome, and in so doing, to prove whether he is the type of racer who was unlucky to have missed the Triple Crown.
And we fans of and contributors to the most beautiful sport have six months of fun and excitement to look forward to.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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