The 2015 San Antonio Invitational
Much like how specatators will attend ballgames to see their favorite players in action, Thoroughbred racing fans will visit their local track if star equines are slated for action. What is even better is when multiple horses that have a following show up on the same program. But what is best of all is when horses of that caliber take each other on.
Such was the case in the 2015 San Antonio Invitational at Santa Anita.
Long known as the traditional tune-up race for the Santa Anita Handicap, the San Antonio made news in its 2015 renewal thanks to the presence of two horses: California Chrome and Shared Belief, who both had stellar 2014 campaigns.
Chrome's story captivated the sport, and the Golden State in particular. A chestnut California-bred, Chrome took racing by storm in the spring of 2014, winning all of his prep races at Santa Anita before claiming victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes en route to Outstanding Three-Year-Old and Horse of the Year honors at the Eclipse Awards. Trained by veteran conditioner Art Sherman, a longtime figure in California racing going back to the 1950s, and campaigned by the small stable of Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, California Chrome overcame a humble pedigree to become one of the most exciting and successful Cal-breds in recent memory, and in the process gained an abundance of fans with his talent and underdog persona.
While Chrome was on his path towards competing in the spring classics, Shared Belief was making a name for himself in California. Sired by Candy Ride, the gelding wasted no time getting into the win column, graduating first time out at Golden Gate Fields in October 2013. Originally trained by Jedd Josephson, Shared Belief went over to Jerry Hollendorfer's stable after his debut, and concluded his two-year-old campaign with impressive victories in the Grade III Hollywood Prevue Stakes and Grade I CashCall Futurity.
That success carried over at three, with Shared Belief going undefeated for much of 2014. Entered in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Shared Belief's seven-race win streak was stopped after an eventful beginning to the Classic cost him any chance of winning. But Shared Belief, to his credit, did not back down, fighting back to take fourth in a game and laudable effort given the circumstances.
Joining Shared Belief in the Classic that day was none other than California Chrome, who sought to add another Grade I to his impressive season. The two never got to battle on track, with Shared Belief having trouble in the opening moments while Chrome went on to finish third in the event.
Of course, Shared Belief's trouble and subsequent rally in the Classic could easily make people wonder what might have happened with a cleaner race. And while he and Chrome were both entered in that November contest, the San Antonio looked like it would feature the showdown fans did not get to see in November. The fans saw that being the case, and many of them journeyed to Santa Anita to see the two popular horse in action.
Rain invaded the city of Arcadia, California on San Antonio Day, February 7, 2015. But a sizable crowd that topped 20,000 braved the rain for the occasion. Nine horses were entered in the 1 1/8-mile feature, but it was seen as a match race. Shared Belief and California Chrome were the two headliners, going off at even money and 7-5, respectively. The only horse to be in single digits in the wagering was 2014 Grade I Clark Handicap winner Hoppertunity, who odds were over 5-1. The rest of the field consisted of Alfa Bird, Bronzo, Clubhouse Ride, Imperative, Tonito M., and You Know I Know, all of whom were at big boxcar odds and clearly seen as battling just for the minor awards.
The rain did not change the track conditions, with the main surface still rated fast at the start. Shared Belief started well, but so did California Chrome, who settled into second place early with jockey Victor Espinoza aboard. Meanwhile, Alfa Bird, who was making his stakes debut, took control. Shared Belief had gotten alongside Chrome going into the clubhouse turn, but the latter pushed ahead and stayed in second as the gelding maintained third.
Alfa Bird kept the lead throughout the backstretch, but California Chrome inched closer throughout as Hoppertunity got alongside Shared Belief. But going around the far turn, Chrome took over without really being asked. Shared Belief and Mike Smith got going as well, and so did Hoppertunity and Martin Garcia, who looked to crash the party and spring the upset.
As the San Antonio reached the top of the stretch, the showdown everyone came to see was on. Shared Belief versus California Chrome. The 2014 Kentucky Derby champion straightened and raced towards the inside part of the main track. He was game, as was Shared Belief, who was giving it his all on Chrome's outside. The crowd watched as the two horses battled, their fans shouting encouragement to them as they looked to start the 2015 season with a victory. Hoppertunity was currently best of the rest in third, but You Know I Know was out to take the show spot late.
After the leaders passed the eighth pole, Shared Belief took it to another level, making up ground on California Chrome. The chestnut tried hard, but second was the best he could manage. Shared Belief had the lead with a sixteenth to go, and he kept it the rest of the way, winning by over a length in 1:48.45. He and Chrome's class over the field was evident at the finish, for third place runner Hoppertunity was about a second behind Chrome when he arrived at the wire.
Shared Belief and California Chrome would never meet again on a race day, but they played a role in making the 2015 San Antonio one of the most memorable renewals of the longtime event. Their presence made the race a throwback to yesteryear when popular and loved horses met on track to see who was the best, at least for that particular day. And Shared Belief was the best on February 7.
They were special Thoroughbreds, and seeing them battle on track was an exciting moment shared by scores of individuals. As they returned to the grandstand, the two favorites were saluted after their latest performances. The San Antonio had just one winner, but both horses were true champions in the eyes of the fans and were deservedly acknowledged as such. And those who saw Shared Belief and California Chrome clash in person that winter afternoon will not soon forget what they watched.