Friday, October 5, 2012

Breeders' Cup Flashback: Ghostzapper

Not many people would believe you if you told them that a lightly-raced four-year-old that had finished second in the previous year’s King’s Bishop Stakes (GI) prior to winning the Vosburgh Stakes (GI) would win that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). They certainly wouldn’t believe you when he ran away with that year’s Tom Fool Handicap (GII). They’d probably agree that he had a good shot at the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI), but the Classic? No way, this horse was a sprinter. Only, he wasn’t.

This so-called “sprinter” was Ghostzapper. He was without a doubt highly successful at sprinting distances, but when the colt loaded into the starting gate for the 2004 Philip H. Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap (GII), he’d yet to run beyond seven furlongs. This time, he’d be racing at the distance of nine furlongs.

Ghostzapper soundly proved that he was not solely a sprinter, rating off the lead before galloping to a dominant 10 ¾-length victory in a final time of 1:47.66. Three weeks later, he started in yet another nine-furlong race, this time against grade one company in the Woodward Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park. This time, Ghostzapper’s victory would be a hard-fought one. The four-year-old prevailed by a neck over Saint Liam and was thus on his way to the Breeders’ Cup – and not the Sprint. Ghostzapper was headed to the Classic.

In horse racing, usually a horse that was so brilliant as a sprinter wouldn’t be successful at ten furlongs, especially against the caliber of horses contesting in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  But Ghostzapper wasn’t your usual horse.

Sent off as the favorite in a field of thirteen, Ghostzapper broke sharply from the rail and immediately went to the lead with Javier Castellano aboard. Carrying Stronach Stables’ silks to the front of the field that featured seven grade one winners excluding himself, Ghostzapper drifted off the rail as Roses in May drew even with him.

Ghostzapper regained a definite lead as the field rounded the clubhouse turn, setting an initial quarter in 23.42. He continued to lead down the backstretch, appearing comfortable beneath Castellano as he recorded a half-mile in 47 seconds flat. As Roses in May proceeded to pressure him, Ghostzapper began to be urged by Castellano as many of the superstars in the field raced after him.

But despite their rallies, Ghostzapper made it clear at the top of the stretch that the Classic belonged to him. His blinkers-clad face – resembling that of a masked superhero – led the field into the homestretch and with each stride, the bay colt drew away from his rivals. He continued to lengthen his advantage on the field, proving his supremacy as he galloped towards the wire. In a show of dominance, Ghostzapper crossed the wire 3 lengths in front in a spectacular final time of 1:59.02, which was not only a track record, but a Breeders’ Cup record. In fact, he had completed the ten furlongs in a time that was faster than that of Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby record.

Ghostzapper not only captured 2004 Horse of the Year, but was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame. Beginning to prove himself as a sire, Ghostzapper could have an effect on the racing industry for years to come. Whether he grows into a highly productive sire or not, Ghostzapper will always be looked upon as one of the most brilliantly versatile horses of all-time, as well as one of the greatest Breeders’ Cup champions of all-time.

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