Frank Stronach's multiple Grade 1 winner Shaman Ghost had to work much harder than the odds board suggested to win Friday afternoon's G3 Pimlico Special. Off at 1-5, Shaman Ghost faced a strong challenge from frontrunner Dolphus (6-1) in the stretch, but the favorite was able to get his head down first in a photo finish of Jimmy Jerkens trainees at the wire. Under Javier Castellano, the 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper covered 1 3/16 miles over Pimlico's fast main track in 1:54.55.
The 47th running of the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special for 3-year-olds and up was a first for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, whose father, late Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, trained 1993 winner and 1994 and 1995 runner-up Devil His Due.
“I remember coming here with Devil His Due three years in a row. It was always a big deal. I remember when my dad came the year he won,” Jerkens said. “It's terrific to run 1-2. It's what we came down here for.”
Dolphus was quick out of the starting gate, out-sprinting the pair of Discreet Lover and Conquest Windycity to the first turn and marking the first quarter-mile in 23.84 seconds. Rajiv Maragh was able to ease Dolphus back a bit for the second quarter once the colt had made a 1 1/2-length lead; the half-mile fraction was 47.92 seconds. Behind the front four, including Fellowship, was Santa Anita Handicap winner Shaman Ghost just to the outside of Watershed, biding his time under Castellano while tucked behind horses.
“I love the horse and I have so much confidence in him because he reminds me of his father,” said Castellano, Ghostzapper's regular rider. “This is such an honest horse. I could have gone to the lead anytime but I didn't want to. He's very straightforward. You can put him wherever you want.”
After three quarters in 1:12.41, Dolphus began to move away from his rivals and Castellano had to swing outside three-to-four wide to make his move with Shaman Ghost. Maragh was trying to sneak away from the favorite at the head of the lane, increasing his advantage to nearly two lengths with the hope that his colt's heart would grow big and he'd be able to hold off the favorite. Castellano and Shaman Ghost had to work hard to draw alongside Dolphus, and he rallied back along the inside rail, fighting all the way to the wire.
Castellano cleverly put Shaman Ghost very close to Dolphus, trapping him along the inside fence; it couldn't be called crowding, because Dolphus' path was never impeded, but the intimidation factor definitely played a role in the final 70 yards as Shaman Ghost finally was able to pass his stablemate to win by a head. Dolphus, the half-brother to Rachel Alexandra, was certainly not disgraced in second. Conquest Windycity stayed on to be third, and Name Changer was just behind him in fourth.
“Dolphus had his own way. He wasn't exactly walking. But he got the three quarters in 1:12 and the way the track was playing today, I thought he had a shot to hang on,” Jerkens said. “Shaman had just a little too much for him, but Dolphus ran terrific.”
Bred in Ontario by Stronach's Adena Springs, Shaman Ghost captured the Queen's Plate to be the best of his generation in Canada in 2015. Transferred below the border to Jerkens' barn, the horse has been in prime form in 2017, finishing second to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup and winning the Santa Anita Handicap in California. Overall, Shaman Ghost boasts a record of eight wins from 16 starts, with earnings of over $3.7 million.
“It's great to win for Mr. Stronach at his track,” Jerkens said, “and it's great to keep Shaman going.”
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