The Pace Projector for the Malibu shows a modest early pace with Bob Baffert’s Pimpernel and Chitu in a comfortable position 1/4 mile into the race.
The Santa Anita winter-spring meet kicks off with the Grade 1, $300,000 Malibu, run over seven furlongs on the dirt. The Malibu marks Shared Belief’s first start since he was eliminated at the tumultuous start of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race won on the lead by Bob Baffert’s Bayern. There’s no Bayern here, and Shared Belief is 4-5 on the morning line.
He figures to go off a bit lower than that. He is far and away the most accomplished horse in this field. He is far and away the fastest horse in this field. To us, the central question in this race is whether there is a plausible case to be made for any of his opponents. The case for Shared Belief is clear and compelling, and the tote board is going to reflect that in no uncertain terms.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the Malibu will be run at a pace that favors horses who are on or near the early lead. The early leader is projected to be the Bob Baffert colt Pimpernel. The Baffert colt Chitu is projected to be a close second. The Baffert colt Indianapolis is projected to be a close third. Hmm, one detects something of a trend here. The horse projected to be fourth early is the Doug O’Neill colt Frensham, a welcome dose of variety but a short-lived one, since he is closely followed by the Baffert colt Midnight Hawk.
If the Pace Projector proves accurate in this race, the early pace is going to be overwhelmingly influenced by horses trained by Baffert. Will he allow his horses to duel with each other? Will he order one to the lead and tell the riders of the others to rate? Will this add to the advantage of being on the early lead in this race? And how will this affect Shared Belief, who has not sprinted in seven months? Shared Belief’s last four races have been at nine furlongs or longer, and Pace Projector shows him in sixth place early.
What to make of all these questions? Well, what we make of them is that the best way to beat Shared Belief in the Malibu is to get ahead of him early–the farther ahead, the better.
Below are the horses whom we give the best chance of pulling an upset. All of them are trained by Bob Baffert:
Chitu (4-1): 4 for 6 lifetime, with a win at this distance over this racetrack. As a three-year-old, he improved on his two-year-old top by three points. Then he went to the sidelines after the Kentucky Derby. Today he will be making his second start off the layoff, a category that gets Baffert a rating of 94. This colt has something that we like to see at the distance of 7F: strong races at distances both shorter and longer than today’s. His top speed figure, a 108, is no match for Shared Belief, but there is at least the chance that he will jump up second off the layoff, given that he has not developed that much to date and he is running at what might prove to be his best distance. Rider Joel Rosario gets a 97 rating with Baffert.
Indianapolis (6-1): The most lightly raced horse in the field, he ran a lifetime top of 107 in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and did so despite a poor start. On our Race Ratings, the BC Sprint was rated 119, while today’s race gets a preliminary rating of 109. So he is at a lower altitude today. His longest race so far has been 6.5F, but we find it highly unlikely that this son of Medaglia d’Oro will be bothered by the additional half-furlong. Gary Stevens and Baffert combine for a rating of 100. However, Baffert is a layoff trainer par excellence, which explains why his third-off-the-layoff rating is a rather mundane 73.
Pimpernel (10-1): Just upset Hoppertunity (yet another Baffert horse) in a second-level allowance race on this racetrack. Earned a lifetime-top speed figure of 110. But the top was a trifle ugly in the sense that it is out of line with his previous efforts, and his experience militates against his chances of stacking another top on that one so soon. He is our least favorite of the four Baffert horses.
Midnight Hawk (6-1): By the peerless sprinter Midnight Lute, he broke his maiden at first asking going (a one-turn) 7.5F over Hollywood Park’s much lamented (by us, at least) Cushion track. Then he was put on the Derby Trail, running five consecutive routes, hitting the board five times while winning once, and earning a top speed figure of 106. After receiving a break, he broke slowly in a minor stake at today’s distance, rushed up, and then folded after half a mile. Then he ran a 99 while finishing third in a second-level allowance race over Del Mar Poly. The blinkers come off today. This colt has been training up a storm on this surface–setting tongues to wagging. His debacle in the Damascus notwithstanding, he handles this racetrack. This distance figures to hit him right between the eyes.
And then there’s Shared Belief:
He lost any reasonable chance after being belted out of the gate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He still earned a speed figure of 114, matching his top. He is 3 for 3 in sprints. He handles this surface. He is the only multiple Grade 1 winner in this field. On our speed figures, his best race dwarfs the best his opponents have offered. He has reportedly been training very well at Golden Gate, which is his home base because his trainer believes that the Tapeta surface is easier on his horse’s tender feet. He draws a good post for staying out of trouble. We expect Mike Smith to keep him wide and in the clear, sacrificing ground in the pursuit of a clear path. Much as we love trying to beat heavy favorites, this is not one we relish challenging. To put it simply, he is better than these horses, and we expect to see it in the Malibu.