04/03/2013 5:39PM

Jay Hovdey: Hear the Ghost's owners have big dreams for bargain horse

Emily Shields
Hear the Ghost, the winner of the San Felipe Stakes, cost just $40,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Ted Aroney likes to think he’s learned the secret of winning the Kentucky Derby, although it’s not much of a secret. More like fortune-cookie wisdom, so obvious that to deny its truth is nothing more than a waste of time.

Anybody can win.

His first lesson came in 1971, when Canonero II, the colt from Venezuela, came from out of the clouds – and the mutuel field – to win the 97th Kentucky Derby by 3 3/4 lengths despite a nightmarish experience in quarantine and a jockey-trainer combination that needed a guide and translator just to find Louisville, Ky.

“The summer before that, they brought Canonero to Del Mar to run in the Futurity,” Aroney said. “He was for sale, and I made them an offer, $60,000, but they wanted $80,000 and half of any of the Futurity purse he won. Plus, they insisted on using their jockey in the race. We turned them down. That was a deal-breaker because $80,000 was a lot of money in those days.”

Canonero II finished fifth in the Del Mar Futurity, returned to Venezuela, then made history the following year by winning the Derby and the Preakness.

“I would carry around an article about his quarantine ordeal before he won the Derby,” Aroney said. “I mean, if a colt could go through all that and still win the Derby, I figured anybody could win.”

[SANTA ANITA DERBY: Get PPs, watch Saturday's full card live]

Aroney’s interest in Thoroughbreds and Southern California real estate eventually put him in the orbit of Sid and Jenny Craig, whose stable was very much dedicated to winning a race like the Kentucky Derby. After Sid Craig died in 2008, Aroney stepped up to manage the racing interests of the Sid and Jenny Craig Trust, and in 2009, he found himself at the Derby with Chocolate Candy, the winner of the El Camino Real Derby for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

“Jerry’s always very careful about barn security, especially when a horse travels like that,” Aroney said. “So, we’re all settled into our barn there at Churchill, and here comes a trailer from New Mexico carrying a horse they put right next to us. The guys with him are partying all night long, beer cans all around. Our guards are saying, ‘Please keep quiet. Our horse is sleeping.’ But the party went on.”

And on and on. The New Mexico horse was Mine That Bird, who won the 2009 Kentucky Derby at 50-1, while Chocolate Candy finished fifth.

“Like I said,” Aroney added, “anybody can win.”

The idea of a colt like Hear the Ghost winning the Kentucky Derby isn’t nearly as outrageous as the sagas of Canonero II and Mine That Bird. Owned by Aroney and Hollendorfer, the son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper will try to cement his status as the best in the West on Saturday when he runs in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby against Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Flashback and Sham Stakes winner Goldencents. Hear the Ghost beat them both in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9 with an admirable stretch punch in what was only his third career start.

Aroney fell for Ghostzapper not too long after he was at Sid Craig’s side when Candy Ride won the 2003 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Had Candy Ride stayed in training in 2004, there could have been a momentous collision of two top older runners in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Lone Star Park, but instead, Craig’s star was retired.

“As good as Candy Ride was, the way Ghostzapper won that Classic, I’m not sure any horse could have beaten him,” Aroney said.

Hear the Ghost already has exceeded any expectations raised by his $40,000 purchase price at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale. Such bargains have become a Hollendorfer trademark, but Aroney warns against the conclusion that Hear the Ghost looked anything like a $40,000 horse.

“Based on his pedigree and his looks, he should have gone for twice that,” Aroney said. “But as I remember, he went very early or very late in a session, and sometimes the prices will be affected by that.”

Good memory. Hear the Ghost, out of the Coronado’s Quest mare Rehear, was the fifth yearling sold at the sixth of 13 sale sessions that September.

He’s got everyone’s attention now, with his San Felipe score preceded by a second in the six-furlong San Pedro Stakes in January and a smart maiden win in December at Betfair Hollywood Park. It has been a while since Aroney and Hollendorfer have teamed to make headlines with a top-class 3-year-old – 24 years, in fact – so it’s okay if they are getting that King Glorious feeling all over again.

King Glorious was unbeaten at 2 in 1988 and ranked second only to champion Easy Goer in year-end polls. He missed the 1989 classics while nursing a sore knee but returned in the summer to win the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, a race that put Hollendorfer’s name on the national map.

“I was told by experienced people who were very professional to enjoy it while I could because chances are, it would never happen again,” Aroney said. “Of course, there’s not too many horses like King Glorious to go around.”

Aroney can blame his lifelong love affair with racing on his father, Anthony Aroney, who was of Greek ancestry but raised in Australia. They were taking father-son trips to Santa Anita from the time young Ted could peek over the paddock railing.

“My father was a rugby player,” said Aroney, who admitted that he was not. “They called him ‘Nuggets’ Aroney. And my uncle once owned a horse who finished seventh in the Melbourne Cup.”

So much for pedigree. The rest has been good fortune and timing. Aroney’s ongoing partnerships with Hollendorfer and other owners have netted some major paydays, topped by Dakota Phone’s victory in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs.

On Saturday, Aroney will find out if Hear the Ghost can take them back to Kentucky, because if anybody can win the Derby, he figures it might as well be him.

John More than 1 year ago
I hope everyone below is right about Hear the Ghost ! When I watched his replay, prior to his last win, he just was flat at mid stretch, then all of a sudden, he just SURGED at the wire, very odd. Then his last race, I thought he would be right with the pace(there goes my handicapping !) but he sat about 5-6 back. Turning into the stretch, he was going no where, I was just wanting to have one of the pace horse's(Flashback or Goldencents) collapse so I could salvage my place bet, but again, go watch the replay, he is getting nothing at midstretch, then he makes this monster surge at the wire . Also, "Tiz" came right up, almost past him, yet he kept him at a distance to the wire. A friend of mine who is an assistant trainer told me, "the horse is still very green, he's not changing leads on time, but in time he will learn".....................Saturday, could be either a MONSTER win, or another learning race...................Ill bet the former !
Rick Evers More than 1 year ago
And yet no one mentions the fact that Ted Aroney accused Laffitt Pincay of taking a bribe, which he knew was a complete lie. He caused an FBI investigation and should have had his owners license revoke forever. These are the kind of people we root for in this business. Nice!
anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a cutie this horse is, he actually seems to have grey in his tail and even on his face. Very game racer. I think he's gonna win.
AzShowVivor More than 1 year ago
They should have high hopes for this horse...I can't believe he isn't the morning line favorite to win the SA Derby...he just blew by the same field a few weeks ago and now has more distance to put in that awesome late kick...This is one serious racehorse and the next Kentucky Derby Winner!
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
Chris More than 1 year ago
bet with your brain not your heart
Starr D More than 1 year ago
I think he is going to win not only for his connections but as a tribute to the great "Grey Ghost" Native Dancer on the 60th anniversary of his only career loss. Wouldn't that be something?
Chris More than 1 year ago
Starr D More than 1 year ago
Hello Dusty More than 1 year ago
Good Luck, Jerry Maybe I will walk a shed row and claim one of your not soo good horses, I watched this horses last race and I thought it was tiriffic one more like that and you guy'shave a big shot in may.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
I just love the rags-to-riches stories of horse racing. Hear the Ghost is an excellent horse, and it's amazing others passed up a great opportunity to purchase him when they had the chance. It was definitely a very lucky break for Aroney - he purchased a quality horse that he clearly loves and of whom he is very proud. Hear the Ghost is already in the starting gate in Louisville May 4th. I'm excited to see Hear the Ghost show us his brilliance in the Santa Anita Derby and at The Show. And thanks for the mention of Canonero II. Great champion! I grew up hearing wonderful tales about Canonero II. His KY Derby was the first my parents went to see in person, and the first Derby on which they ever placed a bet. My mom won that day, and she adored Canonero II from that day forth. The first two horses I ever heard about were Seabiscuit and Canonero II. - LOL. What great memories Canonero II's mention brings back! Thank you for the great trip down memory lane, Mr. Aroney, and for remembering one of the greats in Triple Crown history. Canonero II was a fabulous horse! Good luck and good fortune to you and Hear the Ghost in both the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby!
Francisco Pannaci More than 1 year ago
You are so right!!! Canonero II's performance in the Ky.Derby and the Preakness has been considered one of the greatest feats in the horse racing business. We, racing fans from Venezuela, will always have him on the highest horse racing pedestal. I read from Steve Hasking's column ( big Canonero's fan too) in The Blood Horse, that there is a movie in the making about Cononero II crusade, that i'm sure would bring strength and confidence of the little guy confronting challenges that sometimes would seem impossible. Thank you for your words !!!
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
Hello, Francisco! Thank you for you post. I enjoyed reading it. Canonero II was fabulous, a great, great champion. Venezuelans should be very proud of him! I did not know that there is a movie in the works depicting Canonero II's story. Wow! I am so there!! - LOL. Canonero II overcame a lot to be a great champion - his story is so inspiring! I can't wait until it hits the theaters! Thank you for letting me know about it, Francisco. I hope you have a great week, and good luck with any wagers you put in on the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial. It's nice to find another Canonero II fan.
anonymous More than 1 year ago
I remember hearing about Canonero II and seeing that Derby and the acclaim he got was just immense, the greatest since Northern Dancer (me being from/in Canada). He almost ushered in Secretariat, it seemed the way it unfolded, they were so close together in time and so spectacular. He is definitely one of the greatest horses of the century.