02/15/2005 12:00AM

Here's what 2005 will bring

Email
Horsephotos
Ghostzapper, just wait and see, is going to run a 140 Beyer Speed Figure.

PHILADELPHIA - The 2004 racing season had a little of everything:

* A horse from the wrong side of the tracks coming with a length of winning the Triple Crown.

* A horse delivering three Beyer Speed Figure performances in the 120 range.

* A Horse of the Year choice between two horses - Smarty Jones and Ghostzapper - that had nothing in common.

* Controversy over the premature retirement of Smarty Jones.

* A Breeders' Cup Classic race strategy reportedly formed by the trainer of Ghostzapper and the owner of Roses in May, two men who decided it would be best if their horses did not run each other into the ground.

Can 2005 possibly be as interesting? We can only hope.

Here is what I see.

A Jersey-bred winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Think about it. If anybody had told you in January 2003 that Belmont Park would attract close to a quarter million people for consecutive runnings of the Belmont Stakes to see first a New York-bred and then a Pennsylvania-bred shoot for the Triple Crown, what would you have thought?

Get out a map. What is that state between New York and Pennsylvania? Yes, New Jersey.

So, this much is clear. The successor to Funny Cide and Smarty Jones is a horse born in New Jersey. A name? It should be revealed shortly. For now, let's call him (or her) Horse Jersey.

After Horse Jersey wins the Derby and Preakness in dominating fashion, his owners gently suggest that the Triple Crown grind has been very difficult. A week later, after privately telling friends they are concerned that some jockeys might target Horse Jersey in the Belmont, they announce that their horse has been retired to a Kentucky farm.

Horse Jersey's trainer says the Triple Crown is crazy, that training for the Derby and Preakness is completely different than training for the Belmont, and that ultimately it is not fair to the horse. Everybody - media, fans, television network bigwigs, Belmont officials - shrieks.

On a conference call, a veterinarian suggests that Horse Jersey could have come back after a brief rest, that all that hard training has caused some obvious stress that can be reversed in time.

Horse Jersey's owners get very little sleep. Where there was once fan mail, there is now mail that questions their motivation and their sincerity. Everybody loved their story in the days leading up to the Derby. They really loved them after the Derby and Preakness. Then, nobody even liked them. They tried to explain, but nobody was listening.

There is even talk of having New Jersey's statehood rescinded, cutting the entire state adrift into the Atlantic Ocean. Rationality returns. It is determined by the racing establishment that Triple Crown nominations won't be accepted from New Jersey anymore. Everybody agrees that is a fair compromise.

Meanwhile, Ghostzapper runs every two months. He attracts crowds in the thousands.

If there is any speed in Ghostzapper's races, trainer Bobby Frankel explains to the connections of other speed horses that it would not be in their interests if they ran with Ghostzapper during the early stages of the race. Frankel, as good a handicapper as he is a trainer, understands the ramifications of speed duels.

Ghostzapper regularly runs Beyers in the 130's and is hailed as the Horse of the Century. Frankel agrees to send his horse around the country by train. Ghostzapper is greeted in small towns by dozens of his fans. Ghostzapper's owner, Frank Stronach, challenges the owners of Horse Jersey to a match race.

Horse Jersey's owners reluctantly agree to bring their horse out of retirement. Chris McCarron agrees to come out of retirement to ride Horse Jersey. Gary Stevens replaces the injured Javier Castellano on Ghostzapper.

Stronach quietly sells Pimlico the morning after the Preakness. Pimlico's new owner, a distant relative of Alfred Vanderbilt, begins to lobby for the match. He gets it. The date is set for early November. The Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park is postponed until December at Aqueduct. Nobody minds.

The match is set for mid-week. Pimlico officials are trying to keep the crowd down. Anybody with a New Jersey driver's license is turned away. Frankel explains to Horse Jersey's owners that a speed duel would be ruinous for both of them. Apparently not realizing that it is difficult to set up a race for a third horse that does not exist, Horse Jersey's owners agree to stay back off the pace.

Ghostzapper takes the early lead. Horse Jersey challenges several times, but just can't get by. Horse Jersey begins to retreat at the top of the stretch. Ghostzapper wins by 32 lengths and gets a Beyer of 140.

Everybody lives happily ever after.