03/11/2013 2:00PM

DRF Breeding Weekend Wrap: Another Derby contender emerges at Santa Anita

Emily Shields
Hear The Ghost, who won the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes Saturday at Santa Anita Park, is a son of Adena Springs stallion Ghostzapper.

Last Saturday brought two more qualifying stakes events in the Kentucky Derby Championship Series as the Triple Crown prep season continued to unfold. The Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes each awarded 50 valuable points to the respective winners, vaulting them to a tie at the top of the Road to Kentucky Derby points standings after former points leader Ive Struck a Nerve was declared out of the Derby earlier in the week.

At Santa Anita Park, 2004 Horse of the Year and Beyer Speed Figure legend Ghostzapper was represented by a new contender among the West Coast Derby hopefuls, when Hear the Ghost capitalized on a blistering early pace to rally late and take the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe by a half-length over Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Flashback. Multiple graded stakes winner Goldencents finished fourth after battling Flashback in the early going.

Hear the Ghost is owned by Ted Antony’s Halo Farms and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, and was bred in Kentucky by Will Farish and Lazy F Ranch. Hollendorfer said that the gelding would be pointed to the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, which awards 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner. Bob Baffert said that Flashback, by Tapit, would also train up to the Santa Anita Derby.

Ghostzapper earned worldwide acclaim for his brilliance on the racetrack, producing perhaps the most dominant Breeders’ Cup Classic win in the event’s history with his three-length romp at Lone Star Park in 2004. Standing at Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs in Paris, Ky., for a fee of $40,000 in 2013, the 13-year-old son of fellow Adena stallion Awesome Again has sired several top-flight horses since his first crop hit the racetrack in 2009 but has no classic winners to date. His best chance came in 2010 with Stately Victor, a grinder who won the Blue Grass Stakes but finished eighth in both the Derby and Belmont.

Hear the Ghost entered the San Felipe off of a runner-up finish in the six-furlong San Pedro Stakes and relished the added distance in his first start around two turns on Saturday. He is out of the Coronado’s Quest mare Rehaar and a half-brother to Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes and Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes winner Mani Bhavan, a top sprinting juvenile in 2008.

There are some stronger hints of stamina, if not quite classic-distance fortitude, elsewhere in Hear The Ghost’s female family, as relatives Turkappeal and champion Canadian filly Silken Cat both won stakes at 1 1/16 miles, and broodmare sire Coronado’s Quest was a multiple graded stakes winner around two turns, scoring in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes and Haskell Invitational.

Three time zones away at Tampa Bay Downs, Verrazano solidified his reputation as a leading “eye test” contender for the Kentucky Derby by securing 50 points towards the cause. The physically imposing son of More Than Ready bobbled at the start, but found his stride through the backstretch under John Velazquez and took over at will through the far turn en route to a three-length win over closer Java’s War. He earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance at 1 1/16 miles, compared with Hear the Ghost’s 93 in the San Felipe. Trainer Todd Pletcher said that he was considering several options for Verrazano’s next, and final, start before the Kentucky Derby, including the Wood Memorial on April 6.

Verrazano entered the Tampa Bay Derby on the heels of his 16 1/4-length romp in a one-turn mile allowance at Gulfstream, his second career start, for which he earned a 105 Beyer. He appeared to handle the added distance well traveling over Tampa’s notoriously deep surface, but skeptics about Verrazano’s classic potential will no doubt remain until he takes the next step at 1 1/8 miles.

Verrazano, who is out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Enchanted Rock, was bred in Kentucky by Emory Hamilton. He is owned by Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan’s Let’s Go Stable and the Coolmore triumvirate of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Susan Magnier. Coolmore bought into the horse after his Gulfstream win, while Let’s Go Stable initially purchased Verrazano for $250,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale. Kevin’s father James Scatuorchio campaigned More Than Ready around the turn of the century, when the son of Southern Halo won six stakes races and earned just over $1 million.

More Than Ready never won beyond seven furlongs—he finished fourth in the 2000 Derby after making a strong move in early stretch and tiring—and concerns about his stamina have surfaced often when assessing his progeny’s potential in Triple Crown races. His best performer in that regard to date is Ready’s Image, who dead-heated for third in the 2008 Belmont. Overall, More Than Ready is in the highest echelon of dual hemisphere sires, with three Australian champions to date as well as Breeders’ Cup winners Regally Ready and More Than Real and a host of other top runners. He recently moved his Northern Hemisphere headquarters to WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky., along with the rest of the former Vinery stallions, and stands for $60,000 in 2013.

Verrazano possesses a pedigree that offers excellent performance on his dam’s side, but is still light on classic-distance stamina. His second dam, Chic Shirine, won the 1987 Ashland Stakes and is a full sister to 1991 champion older mare Queena, who did her best racing at seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. Several stakes horses from the contemporary era are close relatives, but many have excelled as milers, such as graded stakes winners Hungry Island - also by More Than Ready - and Soaring Empire.

Hear the Ghost and Verrazano are now tied with Fountain of Youth winner Orb and Gotham winner Vyjack among active contenders on the Kentucky Derby points list with 50 apiece. The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park is the only qualifying race scheduled for next weekend.

Weekend notes: Brereton Jones’ homebred Believe You Can romped by 5 3/4 lengths in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds, earning a 98 Beyer. Last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, who is out of the El Prado mare El Fasto, further enhances the portfolio of Jones’ stallion Proud Citizen, who stands at Airdrie Stud for $15,000 but has reached a full book. His son Mark Valeski, another Jones homebred trained by Larry Jones, won the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 23. At Oaklawn Park, Cyber Secret posted a mild upset in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap over a solid field including last year’s Razorback winner Alternation. The son of Pin Oak Stud stallion Broken Vow earned a 100 Beyer for his nose win over longshot Golden Ron; it is the first graded stakes win this year for his sire.