03/16/2012 2:29PM

Crist: Ghostzapper deserves spot in Hall of Fame

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ghostzapper wins the 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park.

When Ghostzapper was passed over for election to racing’s Hall of Fame last year, there was a reasonable explanation for why the brilliant 2004 Horse of the Year was denied enshrinement in his first year of eligibility.

There was a backlog of worthy candidates who had fallen through the cracks over the previous decade, including three champion fillies who had been kept out by old voting rules that prohibited the election of more than one contemporary filly or mare per year. Voters took advantage of a rule change fixing that problem and commendably rewarded Open Mind, Safely Kept, and Sky Beauty with belated inductions into the Hall. I assumed Ghostzapper would cruise on in 2012.

Now, though, there is a movement to deny him entry again and perhaps forever. Writing on ESPN.com, Bill Finley said that he would not vote for Ghostzapper because “Baseball had its steroid era. Horse racing had its creampuff era, and few horses are more indicative of these times than Ghostzapper.” The complaint is that with only 11 career starts, Ghostzapper is typical of an era when horses “came and went in an instant” and thus is not worthy of election, along with other lightly raced champions such as Bernardini, Big Brown, and Smarty Jones.

I happen to agree with him about that trio of 3-year-old champions, whose achievements fall short of Hallworthiness, but lumping Ghostzapper in with them is misinformed and misguided. While Ghostzapper indeed made only 11 career starts (the same as Hall of Famer A.P. Indy), his career was radically different from those three colts, and not just because he alone among them was a Horse of the Year and a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.

Ghostzapper raced at 2, 3, 4, and 5, while the others raced only at 2 and 3. The span between his first and last career starts was 31 months, while the others came and went in less than a year. Persistent injuries, rather than any lack of will or creampuffery, accounted for his limited number of starts.

What is most unfair about making Ghostzapper the poster boy for an era when numerous sound and healthy horses were prematurely retired to stud is that his handlers did exactly the opposite. He wasn’t retired at the end of his 3-year-old or even 4-year-old season, because owner Frank Stronach and trainer Bobby Frankel were more interested in showcasing his brilliance when he was right.

Stronach brought Ghostzapper back as a 5-year-old, foregoing a year’s worth of stud fees, because he thought it was the right thing to do for the horse and the sport. Ghostzapper went wrong after a sensational victory in the Met Mile in his only start at 5, by which time the breeding season was over. He was retired because he could race no longer, not to generate money or protect his reputation. Plenty of good horses were hustled off to stud too soon during the 1990s and 2000s, but Ghostzapper was not one of them.

When he was right, no one could touch him. The final six starts of his career were as impressive a stretch of performances as any in recent racing history. The streak encompassed victories in the Vosburgh, Tom Fool, Iselin, Woodward, BC Classic, and Met Mile, four of them earning Beyer Speed Figures of 120 or better at seven, eight, nine, and 10 furlongs. It’s a shame he couldn’t have raced more, but he proved his greatness repeatedly and thoroughly deserves to be recognized for it.

Perception trumps reality with ‘Luck' cancellation

The decision by HBO to cancel the series “Luck” because of the death of a filly during production of the show last week appears to have been completely unwarranted by the event.

The filly reared up while being walked back to her stall and fell, suffering fatal injuries. This sort of freak accident happens occasionally with Thoroughbreds, and there is no indication that anyone was negligent or that the incident could have been prevented. Production of the show was being monitored by the American Humane Association. Yet in less than a day, HBO caved in to demands from so-called “animal-rights” groups such as PETA and scrapped the show.

In a statement, HBO said “We maintained the highest safety standards throughout production, higher in fact than any protocols existing in horse racing anywhere with many fewer incidents than occur in racing or than befall horses normally in barns at night or pastures.”

Various investigations will now commence, but if what HBO said in its statement is correct, why did it cancel the show? The answer, sadly, appears to be that innuendo trumps truth and that accusations from publicity-seeking activists are more important than whether, in fact, anyone did anything wrong or whether continued production of the show would have been dangerous.