05/31/2005 11:00PM

Enjoy this rarity named Ghostzapper


PHILADELPHIA - The betting opportunity of the 21st century sneaked up quietly on Nov. 16, 2002, at Hollywood Park. Ghostzapper was 11-1 in a maiden race. He won by nine lengths.

About 2 1/2 years later, in the final minutes before post in Monday's Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, I was staring intently at the show pools. As I looked at the race, I thought Ghostzapper might be vulnerable, that he could get sucked into a hot pace and, in his first start since October, might even run off the board. If that happened and some bridge-jumpers pounded him in the show pool, I wanted to make some show bets on a few contenders, hoping that the toteboard might tilt with some huge prices if Ghostzapper ran out.

Well, Ghostzapper was a huge favorite in the show pools, but it was not one of those bridge-jumping pools. So I sat back to see what might unfold.

I got a show. We all got a show.

I won't be looking to see if I can beat Ghostzapper anymore. Only great horses do what Ghostzapper did in the Met. He tracked a very hot pace set by two very talented speed horses (Love of Money and Forest Danger) and ran by them on the turn as if they were not there. Love of Money and Forest Danger were not slowing down before they went six furlongs. It just seemed that way.

It was like Whirlaway on the far turn in the 1941 Preakness (get a tape of that if you want to see a move). It was Secretariat on the first turn on the 1973 Preakness (if you haven't seen that tape, you definitely need to). It was simply awesome.

By the top of the stretch, Ghostzapper was up by three lengths. By the eighth pole, it was eight. At the wire, it was 6 1/4.

The shame of it is that it happened in a vacuum. Did anybody beyond the hardcore fans even know Ghostzapper was running on Monday? Only 15,066 people were at Belmont Park to see a performance that was reminiscent of some of those by the great horses in American history.

Shouldn't somebody be promoting Ghostzapper? After all, he was the 2004 Horse of the Year. He has now won 9 of 11 starts and earned $3,446,120.

I understand that some people are not happy that he does not run very often. It would be nice if Ghostzapper were campaigned coast to coast, like Seabiscuit or Whirlaway were. Or had a campaign like Spectacular Bid's in 1980.

But that is not how the game is played anymore. Horses, especially really good horses, don't run much. They are treated as the fragile objects they are. Ghostzapper has had foot issues off and on. Last year, he did not race until July. This year, he did not race until almost June.

Whatever his trainer Bobby Frankel does (or doesn't do) with Ghostzapper, it should not be held against the horse. This is a horse to be appreciated and his races savored.

Ghostzapper is putting on a Beyer Speed Figure show to remember. Not since Formal Gold earned four Beyers above 120 in 1997 (and lost two of the races) has a horse done what Ghostzapper is doing.

Ghostzapper got a 122 Beyer in the Met. Last year, he got a 120 in the Tom Fool, a 128 in the Iselin, and a 124 in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

There will be two high-class 3-year-olds on display June 11 at Belmont Park - unbeaten Lost in the Fog in the Riva Ridge and Afleet Alex in the Belmont Stakes. We don't know yet what their top is, but it will be fascinating to see them get there. I can't imagine Lost in the Fog losing anytime soon. Certainly, Afleet Alex is far superior to his contemporaries, but if the Belmont Stakes can produce results such as Sarava over Medaglia D'Oro and Birdstone over Smarty Jones, it is difficult to make absolute pronouncements.

Still, I just can't believe there is a horse alive that can outrun Ghostzapper. In the Met, he crushed the winners of the West Virginia Derby (Sir Shackleton), Pennsylvania Derby (Love of Money), King's Bishop (Pomeroy), Hopeful (Silver Wagon), and Carter (Forest Danger). The other five horses had 20 triple-digit Beyers among them - and they were not competitive.

Really, you did not need a number to understand Ghostzapper's Met Mile. You just had to see it. Sometimes, you just know when you are seeing greatness. And when Ghostzapper started to move on the far turn, I was quite pleased not to be involved monetarily and even more pleased that I was getting a chance to watch a horse with speed, acceleration, and stamina all wrapped into one 5-year-old package.

In 2005, we are actually seeing a top-class racehorse running in his fourth year of competition. You just don't see that anymore. Or horses like Ghostzapper.