Shared Belief could be Jerry Hollendorfer’s horse of a lifetime.
Hollendorfer, a 68-year-old Revere High School and University of Akron graduate, didn’t say that, and certainly wouldn’t at this stage of the game. Especially since the 3-year-old gelding was injured and couldn’t compete in the Kentucky Derby, a prize Hollendorfer still chases.
But after Shared Belief’s final workout for Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the hall of fame trainer who grew up in Bath spoke more confidently and comfortably in a telephone interview Tuesday than he did in person two years ago.
Undefeated in seven starts, Shared Belief is the 9-5 favorite in the 1¼-mile Classic, the nation’s richest race.
In football season, and with thoroughbred racing’s popularity fading, its result might not move the bar in the sports world most years. But this is not most years.
The Classic is being billed as a showdown of “Clones vs. Chromes” by America’s Best Racing, the sport’s marketing arm. That’s a reference to Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome and Shared Belief’s majority owner Jim Rome, the syndicated CBS Sports Radio talk show host whose “Jungle” followers are known as “Clones.”
“Jim Rome, I’ve enjoyed the time that I’ve gotten to spend with him, which really hasn’t been that much,” said Hollendorfer, who also owns a percentage of Shared Belief. “The people that he hires, he lets them do their job and he doesn’t bother them. He figures my stable knows what we’re doing and he has confidence in that. That’s very much appreciated.”
Shared Belief will be ridden by hall of famer Mike Smith, the nation’s best big-money jockey. A victory would cement Horse of the Year and Trainer of the Year honors for Shared Belief and Hollendorfer, whose 6,754 career victories through Tuesday rank third all-time in thoroughbred history.
But Shared Belief’s success has been a family affair, with much of the credit going to Hollendorfer’s wife, Janet.
The Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old male, Shared Belief looked on track for a Triple Crown campaign until early January, when he developed an abscess in his right front foot.
The problem got worse before it got better. He ended up with quarter cracks in his right front and right rear hooves that required patching and special shoes.
Hollendorfer didn’t panic. He’d dealt with the problem before with stakes winner King Glorious in the late 1980s. While he commuted between Northern and Southern California, he turned Shared Belief over to Janet, his assistant at his Golden Gate Fields-based stable in Berkeley. Even when healthy, he wanted the horse to train at Golden Gate because of its all-weather surface called Tapeta, which he feels is more forgiving.
Some might have been tempted to enter such a talented horse in the Kentucky Derby, but Hollendorfer never considered it. He said Rome never pushed.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision because I didn’t really have a choice,” Hollendorfer said. “I couldn’t because of the condition he was in.”
Shared Belief didn’t return to the races until May 26. Meanwhile, California Chrome was running his winning streak to six with his victory in the Preakness.
“He didn’t really lose that much,” Hollendorfer said of Shared Belief. “It didn’t take him long to get back in the groove.”
Shared Belief is four-for-four this year, showing tactical talent with speed and stamina. He’s been so good that his rivals have started to gang up on him. He prevailed by a neck in his last start Sept. 27 in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita despite being carried wide on both turns by Sky Kingdom and rider Victor Espinoza. Also California Chrome’s rider, Espinoza drew a seven-day suspension.
“His last couple races he had some traffic problems,” Hollendorfer said, refusing to criticize the competition. “Oftentimes you’ll find a good horse will find a way to win.”
Hollendorfer doesn’t have family remaining in Northeast Ohio, but figures his UA roommate Al Kerkian will be watching the Classic at his Bath restaurant, Gasoline Alley.
“Think how improbable even considering another horse ahead of California Chrome would have been after his Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins,” Kerkian said via Facebook. “When Jerry had such bad luck with injury, he didn’t complain or try and rush Shared Belief. Instead he patiently let him heal and masterfully brought him back. Win or lose, [I] could not be prouder of my roomie.”
Hollendorfer has won a Breeders’ Cup event, the Dirt Mile in 2010 with Dakota Phone. He has three Kentucky Oaks victories, the fillies’ version of the Kentucky Derby, with Lite Light (1991), Pike Place Dancer (1996) and Blind Luck (2010). He’s pushing to reach 7,000 career victories. But Hollendorfer knows what’s at stake Saturday.
“This is a real big race for everybody — for the horse, for the owners and for myself. Of course we want to win,” Hollendorfer said.
“Anybody who can win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, no matter how many races you’ve won or how many stakes, it would still be one of the highlights of your career. It would be of mine, for sure. Right now we feel we’re going to lead over a very good horse.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.