03/16/2012 1:29PM

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.

Robert More than 1 year ago
I agree that Ghostzapper is worthy of HOF enshrinement. Not as good as Dr. Fager but very much in that same style of running. His 2003 Vosburgh is an incredible performance. He is running by the leaders like they are standing still given fractions of 1:08 and change. I can't think of many racehorses in recent years as impressive as this one. Not a top 5 but an absolute monster nonetheless. I have not seen many better in recent memory. It is a shame that he suffered so many injuries.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
come on people, Smarty, Dini, big brown, and zappa all deserve a spot in the hall. It wasnt the horses choice to retire early. Smarty was one of the highest money winners of all time in only 9 races, i find that amazing. those 4 horses above i mentioned mean alot to the younger newer group of horse racing fans, and deserve their spot. Wasnt Smarty the first Horse to appear on the cover of Sports illustrated?
djdustmon More than 1 year ago
You make strong points for Ghostzapper. However, without looking it up, he would have fewer lifetime wins and starts than probably anyone in HOF history. Added to that, you point to the fact he was chronically lame. That certainly is not the kind of horse the industry needs to perpetually trumpet. Lastly, you mention his string of 120s, but do not mention nor question the fact that no horse moves that fast anymore and hasn't in years. I think he had an excellent career and moments of brilliance. But winning the Vosburgh, Tom Fool and Iselin aren't exactly world-class achievements. You know that, even with the extraordinary NYRA bias that DRF has had for eons. Your misinformed comment about Smarty Jones shows it. He won at six or seven distances, over five or six racetracks, and if Jerry Bailey hadn't been on a suicide mission to sucker Stu Elliott into pulling the trigger too quickly, Smarty Jones would have won the Triple Crown by a margin seen by few other than Secretariat. As it is, when he ran second in the Belmont, you'd need a telescope to find the third horse. Whomever does or does not get in to the Hall of Fame really doesn't matter. It's not Canton, Ohio or Cooperstown, New York. Few go to the races, and fewer go to the HOF. Bill Finley's contentions were accurate and correct. In regards to "Luck," HBO didn't cave into PETA's demands. Most of the 2012 episodes were shot months to years ago. The show is basically terrible. The latent PETA complaint just served to let Dustin Hoffman and HBO off the hook. Three horses dying on the set in two years is just what HBO said above in their own defense. There is nothing compelling about the program. A bunch of guys living in a seedy motel hit the Pic-6 for $2 million? A $2 million pool, and these guys have the lone ticket, eh? That's more than "Luck," it's goofy. With a good carryover they would be up against guys who have 6-8-5-by-6-6-6. Nick Nolte's bug girl mopes around begging for a mount - every week. Gary Stevens, who is actually proving he can act, gets the same sad line in every show that begins with an "f" and ends with a "you see kay." Dustin Hoffman is an aging movie star who hasn't had a big role since that movie with Tom Cruise where he's a savant card counter. When was that, nearly 15 years ago now? So, of course, he's "producing" a leading role for himself, representing something in Hollywood that's lower than doing TV commercials. That is a "vanity" production where he's buying or bartering for "face" time. When Sunday nights come, Hoffman must cringe at bad story lines, hideous racing scenes and the inept acting. By the way, and not to denigrate Hoffman, but he has more wrinkles and cracks than the San Andreas Fault. "Luck" was given the top spot. Mostly because there was no "Sopranos," "Oz," "Arliss," "John From Cinncinnati" or "Curb" currently in their prime time line-up. PETA is against lots of things like McDonalds. I don't see them selling less burgers or switching over from beef to tofu. Ratings don't matter to HBO. Subscribers do. And, unlike ratings, which are a load of manure, a pure guesstimate made by extrapolation and multiplication, HBO knows the exact number of subscribers, the date they subscribed and follow up those subscriptions with surveys asking questions about shows like "Luck." This show hasn't picked up a single subscriber, unlike The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm which spiked prior to each seasonal premier. This show simply ran out of luck.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Heck Ghostzapper was nothing compared to Groovy! he got 130+ Beyers....
Delroy Brown More than 1 year ago
Holy Bull belongs in the Hall of fame. Did he get in.
Delroy Brown More than 1 year ago
Ghostzapper owners, were not afraid to race him because they knew he had class. These days a horse display brilliance in restricted weight forr age races and they hurry him off to stud before he gets beat. All horses don;t develop at the same rate some comes into their own after 3, Cigar and Skip Away to name a few and they dodged no one. Some owners have no confidence in their horses and only is in it for the money hence they run to the breeding shed after 3. Take Rachel Alexandrea , she never should have been voted horse of the year, she ducked the great zenyatta who raced past 5 years. They brought her back at four and she could not prove herself among older mares who had come into rheir own.
Buzz Nottingham More than 1 year ago
Too bad that a simple mini series about the trials and tribulations of the race track has to succumb to the whim and conceit of the Madison Avenue types. I, for one, enjoyed the series. I respect the interests of The American Humane Association and of PETA, however they should be reminded that the beautiful equine athletes do not live in a bubble. They want only one thing. To run. HBO should have held their ground.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think bad ratings had a lot to do with the cancellation. The horse accident was just an excuse to stop production on an expensive show that casual horseracing fans didn't care about and regular people just didn't understand. I liked it, but I love anything to do with horseracing. Well........ anything except that sorry excuse for a Secretariat movie.
NITTANYLYINAROUND More than 1 year ago
"Luck" was a dreary, poorly constructed series that, although some episodes were written by noted thouroghbred writers, was insulting to not only the sport, but to all the many colorful characters that make it an endless source of wonderful, entertaining stories. Too bad they apparently had no one with their finger on the pulse of this great game.
Old timer More than 1 year ago
Sorry but I could never get over that Ghostzapper was awarded Horse of the year on only 4 starts.
Delroy Brown More than 1 year ago
There was none better that year. Horses get voted based on one start.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the horse can't pick his competition or field size - deny him the texas track record - 'zappers other stakes races were run within a second of those tracks records - ps - man o' war is the poster boy for 'short' fields