When Ghostzapper was retired to stud in late 2005, the sky seemed the limit for his potential as a stallion.
After a career in which the son of Awesome Again won 9 of 11 races, including the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Met Mile, the Woodward and three other graded stakes, Adena Springs saw fit to make a statement of the things to come. Ghostzapper's stud fee was set at $200,000, tying the record for a North American first-year sire.
Expectations were naturally high for a horse that had won major graded stakes by open lengths, earned more than $3.4 million and recorded one of the highest Beyer Speed Figures ever (a 128 in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth).
But with any young stallion, great expectations can quickly turn to greater disappointment.
Ghostzapper's initial foals failed to generate the buzz one might anticipate, which led to a perception that he might be a commercial failure even before his runners hit the track.
It didn't help matters that his freshman crop in 2009 ranked 21st among first-crop sires, with eight winners from 22 starters and only one minor stakes winner. By that year, his stud fee had been reduced to $125,000.
As 2010 began, Ghostzapper's fee was sliced to $30,000, reflecting both the downturn in the economy and the market opinion about him. But at Adena Springs Kentucky, there was still plenty of belief in Ghostzapper.
The farm's general manager, Eric Hamelback, recalls watching an impressive allowance winner at Woodbine with Adena Springs owner Frank Stronach.
“After he crossed the wire, Mr. Stronach looked at me and said 'they're coming.'”
In April of 2010, a Ghostzapper colt named Stately Victor ran off with Keeneland's Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at 40-1, the longest-priced winner in the history of the race. It gave Ghostzapper his first graded stakes victory and Stronach and company further confidence that more winners were indeed coming. That year, Ghostzapper finished fourth among second-crop sires with nearly $3 million in earnings.
In 2011, Ghostzapper produced four graded stakes winners and more than $5.2 million.
“He didn't have a breakout year early, but he has been extremely consistent over the course of time,” said Hamelback.
Ghostzapper did have something of a breakout weekend this past Memorial Day, scoring three graded stakes victories – led by the 3-year-old filly Contested, who ran off with the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont by five lengths. Better Lucky won the Grade 2 Sands Point Handicap on the Belmont turf, and Adena Springs' own Hunters Bay took the Grade 3 Eclipse at Woodbine.
Hamelback said Contested, who has now won four of five starts and two graded stakes, is an example of a cross that is working extremely well for Ghostzapper.
“If you throw up a list of his stakes horses, it is very apparent that the Roberto line, the Halo, Hail to Reason lines are extremely positive in the effect of his matings.”
Morgan's Guerrilla, the second-place finisher in this year's G3 Illinois Derby, also has the Halo, Hail to Reason influence in the broodmare sire line, as does Crimson Glory, a 5-year-old mare who finished 2011 winning three of her last four. Skylara, a 4-year-old filly running in this weekend's G2 Nassau Stakes at Woodbine, has the Hail to Reason, Roberto presence on the dam side.
“We utilize it now somewhat as a sales pitch. If you've got anything with the Roberto, Halo, Hail to Reason influence, we would highly suggest it at this point,” said Hamelback.
After last weekend, it might not take much prodding. Hamelback said the cluster of wins has prompted a little extra late-season activity, bringing Ghostzapper's bookings to 102 for the year. The 2012 inductee into racing's Hall of Fame had 119 bookings last year, a significant increase from around 80 the two previous seasons.
Hamelback said he understands the way the commercial breeding business works – it's about the hot horse at the moment. But from a stallion farm and racehorse perspective, he said Adena believes patience is still a virtue.
“Frank understands the game so well. He knows how to help a stallion, there's no question about it,” Hamelback said. “You've got to be patient, and if you believe in a horse, then stay after it. Sometimes, it's takes time for horses to come around.”
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