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Shared Belief Stakes

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, the Shared Belief S. at Del Mar was a minor race known as the El Cajon S. First run in 1973, the race endured for more than 40 years in a seemingly constant state of fluidity, frequently changing distance and conditions while offering a modest purse unlikely to attract the best 3-year-olds in training.

But slowly—surely—the El Cajon rose in prominence. Restricted for many years to horses that had yet to reach a particular class standard, the race was reopened to all comers in 2004, and the following year saw the purse jump to $100,000.

These positive changes were offset to some extent by nearly a decade of racing on a synthetic track at Del Mar, but the return of dirt racing to the seaside oval in 2015 triggered a sharp jump in the quality of the El Cajon. Two-time graded stakes winner Gimme Da Lute nabbed the 2015 renewal for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and in 2016 the race was renamed to honor Shared Belief, the champion 2-year-old male of 2014.

As if to honor its new champion namesake, the Shared Belief promptly enjoyed an impressive streak of high-quality winners. The 2016 Shared Belief victor Accelerate went on to be named champion older dirt male two years later. The 2017 winner, Battle of Midway, ended his season with a resounding victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), and 2019 champion Improbable went on to claim the 2020 Hollywood Gold Cup (G1).

But the Shared Belief has never been a race to rest on its laurels, so the 2020 edition will take on yet another flavor. The postponement of the Kentucky Derby due to COVID-19 means the Shared Belief will serve as a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race awarding 85 qualification points, split 50-20-10-5 among the top four finishers. To strengthen its position as a Derby prep, the Aug. 1 race has been lengthened from 1 mile to 1 116 miles.

Its conditions might be ever-changing, but the Shared Belief’s rise to national prominence seems destined to continue.

By J. Keeler Johnson

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