On a picturesque, weather-perfect Sunday afternoon at Del Mar, with a crowd of 28,290 roaring its approval, unbeaten Shared Belief proved he might be horse racing's next big star, accelerating when jockey Mike Smith asked on the final turn and pulling away down the stretch to win the $1-million Pacific Classic by 2 3/4 lengths over Toast Of New York.
It was the sixth victory for Shared Belief, last year's 2-year-old champion who missed this year's Triple Crown races while recovering from foot problems. But he's healthy and headed for the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita and a possible showdown against Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome.
"What a great thing for racing," Smith said. "It's going to be incredible."
Smith, who turned 49 this month, won four races Sunday and picked up his eighth stakes win. He said he trained nearly as hard as Shared Belief, running for three miles on a treadmill and saying "no" to wine. His sacrifice was worth it.
"He's a special horse," Smith said of the gelding. "I heard someone say this might be the coming out of a superstar. I think now this horse deserves that accolade."
It wasn't just 3-year-olds Shared Belief defeated in finishing the 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.28. It was his first test against top older horses, and he had to run down the $6.4-million career earnings veteran Game On Dude, who opened a 3 1/2-length lead going into the final turn. Smith had been the regular rider for Game On Dude and knew what the 7-year-old was capable of.
"I've been on him when he's run extremely fast and kept on running, but I felt very confident I had horse," he said. "It was a matter did I have enough when I asked him."
Shared Belief bounced off the starting gate to start the race, leaving Smith farther back than he had planned, settling in fourth position. Though Game On Dude was able to put away Mystery Train in the early going, that speed duel cost Game On Dude, who faded to fourth.
Smith praised trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who got Shared Belief into shape to win at 1 1/4 miles in only his third start of 2014.
"When you have horses run in these big races, everybody wants to dissect them and be critical," Hollendorfer said. "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 be under the microscope again."
Co-owner Jim Rome, who's been known to get a little excited on his national radio program, said of his racing experience, "The whole thing is so surreal to me. I keep getting the question, 'This is easy, right?' We all know it's the hardest thing in the world."
Shared Belief is in position to earn a $1 million bonus that was offered as part of the Bolton Challenge if a horse could sweep the Los Alamitos Derby, the Pacific Classic and the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Smith also won the $250,000 Del Mar Mile, guiding Tom's Tribute to victory. In the $250,00 Pat O'Brien Stakes, Goldencents set a track record, going seven furlongs in 1:20.99.
Follow Eric Sondheimer on Twitter @LATSondheimerCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times