SAN DIEGO - The undefeated 3-year-old Shared Belief is the 5-2 morning line favorite for Sunday's 24th annual $1 million TVG Pacific Classic, Del Mar's richest and most prestigious race.
Game On Dude, who won last year's race by a record 8 1/2 lengths, is the second choice in the field of 11 at 3-1 in the 1 1/4-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.
The field also includes Majestic Harbor, winner of the Gold Cup at Santa Anita; Irish Surf, the winner of Del Mar's Grade III Cougar II Handicap July 25; Imperative, a 1 1/2 length winner over Game On Dude as a 26-1 shot in the $1.5 million Grade II Charles Town Classic April 19 in Charles Town, West Virginia; Toast of New York, the winner of the UAE Derby; Frac Daddy, a 4-year-old with two victories and a second-place finish in his last five starts; You Know I Know, third in the 2013 Pacific Classic; and the Argentine-bred Mystery Train, making his U.S. debut.
"This is the most intriguing Pacific Classic they've had in a while," said Kenny Rice, who will be a reporter on the NBC Sports Network cable telecast.
"You've got so many horses with something to prove. If you could secretly take the trainers aside I think probably half the field would say `I don't have a clue,' but this is certainly worth taking a shot. This could certainly be a star-making race for several horses in the field."
The Pacific Classic will be the 10th race on an 11-race card with an approximate post time of 5:46 p.m. The NBC Sports Network coverage will begin at 5 p.m. and also include the seven furlong Pat O'Brien Stakes for 3-year-olds and up.
Shared Belief won the Eclipse Award as the top 2-year-old male for 2013 when he won all three of his races, but lingering foot issues kept him out of this spring's Triple Crown races.
Shared Belief began his 2014 campaign by winning a six furlong allowance race at Golden Gate Fields in May, his first race of the year, and was a 4 1/4-length winner in the Grade II Los Alamitos Derby in his last start July 5.
"It looks like he's living up to all the billing from a season ago,” Rice told City News Service. "If he wins this race, he puts himself in a Horse of the Year position."
Shared Belief is owned by a partnership led by radio sports talk show host Jim Rome. He will carry 118 pounds, six less than Game on Dude.
Game on Dude has won just once in his six races since last year's Pacific Classic, with the victory coming in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap.
The 7-year-old gelding is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and owned by a partnership that includes Baseball Hall of Fame member Joe Torre.
Game on Dude was sixth in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's top thoroughbred poll released Monday, one spot ahead of Shared Belief.
"He's been the dominant older horse on the West Coast for two years," Rice said. "He likes the track. He's been able to train well over this track. It seems to suit him."
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be aboard Shared Belief after riding Game on Dude in each of his last six races.
"For him to leave Game on Dude for Shared Belief in this spot tells you what he thinks of our horse because I know he loves the Dude," Rome said.
”It was a huge vote of confidence for our horse and our group."
Shared Belief will start from the outside post, while Game on Dude drew the No. 5 post.
"I think we'd rather have the outside than inside," said Shared Belief's trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, also a member of the Racing Hall of Fame.
"Mike is the one who has to do all the maneuvering and I don't think he minds being out there."
Game on Dude part-owner Bernie Schiappa said he was "fine with" the No. 5 post.
The winner will receive $600,000 and be guaranteed entry into the nation's richest race, the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, and will have all his entry fees paid.
Rice said he "leans to" picking Game on Dude as the winner.
"I do think he'll bounce back," Rice said. "I think he is too good. I do think it's a race ... that an upset could be pulled with horses that at first look you could overlook, like Frac Daddy and Mystery Train."