Stronach Stables' Shaman Ghost, a very good runner-up to the World's Best Racehorse Arrogate last out in the Pegasus World Cup, was able to overcome a bit of trouble to capture the second G1 of his career in Saturday's Santa Anita Handicap. The 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper bested Midnight Storm by about three-quarters of a length on the wire, stopping the clock in 2:01.57 for 10 furlongs on the fast main track. Ridden by Javier Castellano and trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Shaman Ghost gave both men their first victory in Santa Anita's “Big 'Cap.”
“I haven't had much luck coming out here,” said Jerkens. “This was nice to come out and win this, it definitely is.”
Second-favorite in the wagering, Midnight Storm broke a bit inward from his post along the rail, but nonetheless had the lead approaching the wire for the first time. Shaman Ghost was between Gangster and Isotherm in a battle for second position, and approaching the first turn Castellano smartly took him back for a moment, allowing Shaman Ghost to drift over the to the inside rail and save all the ground along the turn.
“He's a classy horse,” said Castellano. “With not a lot of speed in the race, I had to ask him a little, put him really close to the pace and he responded. Very classy horse.”
Midnight Storm, however, was having everything pretty much his own way on the front end, galloping through fractions of :23.54 and :47.52 on a loose rein from jockey Rafael Bejarano. Isotherm held onto second while four-wide on the outside, with Shaman Ghost about 1 1/2 lengths off the lead along the rail.
The field began to bunch up approaching the far turn, with Hi Happy, Hard Aces and Imperative all trying to join the fray. Castellano stayed patient on Shaman Ghost, tucked in his little hole along the fence, waiting for room to open so he could ask his horse the question. Midnight Storm marked three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.76 and held on to his one-length lead nearing the head of the lane.
With incredible patience, Castellano stayed behind Isotherm all the way through the turn, waiting for that horse to tire so he could cut to his inside. When it finally happened and Castellano hit the gas, Shaman Ghost burst into the bridle and easily took second at the top of the stretch.
Angled just outside Midnight Storm, who was giving everything he had to maintain his lead, Shaman Ghost began to drift toward the center of the track under a firm hand ride from Castellano. When the jockey finally switched his stick to his left hand at the sixteenth pole, Shaman Ghost seemed to see his rival on the inside. Suddenly back in gear, Shaman Ghost got down to business, extending his stride beautifully to pass Midnight Storm just before the wire.
“I tried to get away from Midnight Storm in the stretch,” Castellano explained. “I could tell that my horse was a little sensitive to going by the other horse. I switched my stick to my left hand, tried to make him switch leads to go by and that's what he did.”
At the finish it was Shaman Ghost about three-quarters of a length in front of Midnight Storm, with Follow Me Crev closing from way back to claim third. Hi Happy hung around to be fourth across the line.
“I stayed on the rail, and the horse relaxed,” Bejarano said of Midnight Storm. “He was really, really relaxed the whole race. I tried to get the jump at the start and tried to steal the race, but the winner was much the best today.”
Bred in Ontario by Stronach's Adena Springs, Shaman Ghost took a few starts to figure out what he was supposed to be doing. Under the care of trainer Brian Lynch he captured Canada's premier race for 3-year-olds, the $1 million Queen's Plate, but required 10 months away from the races after a second-place effort in the Prince of Wales Stakes (second jewel of Canadian Triple Crown). It was upon his return to the races that Shaman Ghost was entrusted to Jerkens, and the pair have been remarkably consistent since the summer of 2016 when their partnership began. At Saratoga Shaman Ghost won the G1 Woodward, and his second in the Pegasus World Cup earlier this year was an incredible performance. Overall, Shaman Ghost boasts a record of 7-2-2 from 15 starts, with earnings of over $3.5 million.
“Of course any time you win a Grade I it is a thrill, especially this race,” said Frank Stronach, who also won the Santa Anita Handicap with Milwaukee Brew in 2002 and 2003. “I was kind of sitting there quiet (watching the race.) He's had a lot of bad racing luck and he's better than what he has shown. Today it all worked out.”
Watch the race replay here:
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