Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - If you thought the 3-year-olds of 2014 would easily relinquish center stage now that the Triple Crown races have concluded, think again.
Races for 3-year-olds last weekend opened the second half of the racing season with a champion thoroughbred once again devastating his opposition and another adding a fourth stakes victory in his last five starts.
Appearing in his first stakes race of the year for his second start since returning from injury was Eclipse Award winner Shared Belief. The 3-year-old gelding, trained by co-owner Jerry Hollendorfer, made his first start on dirt in Saturday's $500,000 Los Alamitos Derby, formerly the Swaps Stakes when it was run at Hollywood Park.
Shared Belief, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith for the first time, basically toyed with his six rivals in the 1 1/8-mile stakes over the newly configured mile oval at Los Alamitos.
"I was a little anxious to get this one out of the way and see if he could handle dirt and the mile and an eighth," Hollendorfer noted.
The champion gelding proved completely healthy by covering the distance in the excellent time of 1:47.01, the fastest time since Old Trieste won the Swaps in 1998 in 1:47.06.
"I thought I had him prepared and apparently he was because he won pretty much in hand," the Hall of Fame trainer said after Shared Belief posted a 4 1/4- length win. "I was confident he would handle dirt because his sire Candy Ride handled all surfaces.
"We came out of the gate just like we planned and were forwardly placed. Turns out we were in the right spot. I love this horse and I think he's a very good horse."
Shared Belief continued his unbeaten string with the Los Alamitos Derby victory. He was perfect as a 2-year-old in 2013 in three starts and has now extended his streak to five as a 3-year-old.
"A Derby is a Derby," co-owner Jim Rose said. "It may not be the Kentucky Derby, but I'm going to take a Derby win anyway I can get it. It's a good day.
"I've had the same questions as you guys about whether he could run on dirt and most of all if he could get the distance. I was a little concerned, but then he did what he does. Shared Belief did Shared Belief things and it ended pretty well."
Shared Belief is expected to now take on older horses in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August. Just as the Los Alamitos Derby was his first try at 1 1/8 miles, the Pacific Classic will be his initial attempt at 1 1/4 miles.
If Shared Belief continues experiencing victory, he can gain support as this year's champion 3-year-old.
Entering the discussion as top sophomore is Kid Cruz, winner of last week's Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park.
Kid Cruz, trained by Linda Rice, notched his second straight stakes win and fourth overall this year. The colt previously won the Private Terms and Federico Tesio Stakes before an eighth-place finish in the Preakness. He came back on June 7 by winning the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont.
"We've had a few bumps along the road," Rice said. "We had to scratch him from the Wood Memorial (April 5), so we'll see how it plays out. One day at a time.
"When he won the Private Terms, he was so far back and there were such slow fractions that I thought there was something wrong, but each time he's been laying a little closer."
Kid Cruz is now headed for the stakes at Saratoga.
"We will point towards the Jim Dandy ($600,000, 1 1/8 miles, July 26) and then the Travers ($1.25 million, 1 1/4 miles, Aug. 23)," Rice said. "If I feel like he needs more time, we'll just wait and train him to the Travers."
Kid Cruz can be ranked as the best 3-year-old on the East Coast while Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ California Chrome and Shared Belief are both in the Golden State.