07/08/2017 8:20PM

Ghost Hunter gets first graded stakes win in Arlington 'Cap

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Ghost Hunter paid $26 to win the Arlington Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Jamie Ness mainly is a claiming trainer. Many hundreds of horses have passed into and out of his barn. Horses get good for awhile, tail off. But age is a constant. Past a certain age, an older horse’s ceiling gets lower and lower.

“Father Time always gets them,” Ness said.

Well, not always. Ness had just finished the winner’s circle ceremony after sending Ghost Hunter out to win the Grade 3, $100,000 Arlington Handicap. Ghost Hunter is a 7-year-old gelding who was making his 45th start. And on Saturday, he won the first graded stakes of his career.

“He seems to be getting better, and I can’t really explain why,” Ness said.

Ghost Hunter got a great trip under jockey Edwin Gonzalez, who also won his first graded stakes. Ghost Hunter sat third in the pocket behind a pace that started moderate and turned slow. Crewman went to the front, pressed by Oak Brook, and went a middle half-mile in just less than 51 seconds, a crawling tempo that spelled doom for the closers.

In upper stretch, Crewman drifted out and Gonzalez steered to the rail, finding a gaping hole that Ghost Hunter popped through. He came out the other side on the lead, and on the way to victory.

“He always finds trouble, this horse,” Ness said. “Today, I’m just glad he took the rail, because if he’d have gone out, he’d have had trouble again.”

Indeed, Ghost Hunter might have won the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup on Polytrack here May 13 with a clean run, but trouble cost him dearly that day, and he wound up third. Back on turf June 15 at Delaware Park, Ghost Hunter beat multiple graded-stakes winner Ring Weekend in an allowance race, setting a course record, but a slow dirt workout in 1:06.20 on June 29 led Ness to consider passing the Arlington Handicap.

“He came out of it well, though, so I took a shot, I guess,” Ness said.

Ness claimed Ghost Hunter for $25,000 way back in June 2014 and, despite the horse running in 12 claiming races thereafter, never lost him. Ghost Hunter transitioned from mainly being a dirt horse to turf and synthetics in 2015, and has pretty much been on an upward trend ever since. He won the $200,000 Presque Isle Downs Mile last September, and started his 2017 campaign with a close third in the Henry Clark Stakes at Laurel, a race won by Ascend, who went on to capture the Grade 1 Manhattan.

Now, Ghost Hunter is set for his own Grade 1; Ness said he plans to return for the Arlington Million next month. By Ghostzapper out of Hartfelt, by Kafwain, Ghost Hunter, who races for Triple K Stables, now has a record of 46-18-9-8.

He paid $26 to win Saturday while running 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:55.86. Coming home second was 45-1 shot Oak Brook, who showed his upset in the Black Tie Affair Handicap last month was no fluke. A head farther back was Kasaqui, the 6-5 favorite and winner of the 2016 Arlington Handicap. The 124-pound high-weight, Kasaqui gave the winner six pounds – in addition to a big head start.

Squeezed back into the first turn, Kasaqui raced seventh of eight down the backstretch and for half the far turn as the leaders dawdled. He came out for his run in the homestretch and made good progress, but just had too much to do. But this was not the goal for Kasaqui, who finished second in the Million last year, and whose connections long have targeted that race.

“I’m happy,” trainer Ignacio Correas said. “The horse showed up, like always. We’re still going to the Million. I think it didn’t take anything out of him today.”

Kasaqui, like Ghost Hunter, is 7. Father Time hasn’t caught them yet.