05/24/2005 11:00PM

Limited engagements

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Ghostzapper, winning the 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic, will begin his 2005 campaign in Monday's Met Mile at Belmont.

ELMONT, N.Y. - His career has been brief, but brilliant. When Ghostzapper runs, be it short or long, he is always worth the price of admission.

In winning all four starts last year, Ghostzapper did enough to be crowned Horse of the Year convincingly over the popular Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Smarty Jones. Ghostzapper could have been a super sprinter had he not been a magnificent router.

"That's what makes him unique - he can sprint and go long," said Bobby Frankel, trainer of Ghostzapper. "If he has the year I hope he has, he can go down as one of the great horses."

Ghostzapper, who is 8 for 10 lifetime, will again have a limited campaign - four or five races - in 2005. Ghostzapper is scheduled to begin his season Monday in the Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, where he is unbeaten in four starts.

Only four of the previous 15 horses crowned Horse of the Year have come back to run the following season. Of that group, Cigar came back to earn a second Horse of the Year title in 1996. Azeri, the Horse of the Year in 2002, was able to win two more championships in the filly and mare division, in 2003 and 2004.

Other than Cigar, only Affirmed (1978-79), Forego (1974-76), and Secretariat (1972-73) have repeated as Horse of the Year in the last three decades.

Frankel said he was planning to start Ghostzapper's 5-year-old season in April, but a sinus infection forced him to miss the Oaklawn Park Handicap. A hole had to be drilled just over Ghostzapper's eye to drain the sinus infection. It was the latest in a list of little issues that have dogged Ghostzapper throughout his career.

"It's the business of horse racing, starting and stopping on horses," Frankel said. "And when they give you a horse that good, there's always going to be little problems. They're not going to make it that easy that you're going to have a 100 percent sound horse. It's not supposed to be that way."

As a 2-year-old, Ghostzapper had what Frankel called immature ankles. After winning his career debut at Hollywood Park by nine lengths, Ghostzapper finished fourth in an allowance race at Santa Anita in December 2002.

After a six-month break, Ghostzapper returned to win an allowance race at Belmont Park. Following another allowance win at Saratoga, Ghostzapper made his stakes debut in the Grade 1 King's Bishop. He came with a flying finish to be third, beaten a half-length. It is a loss that Frankel still bemoans.

"If we knew him a little better he wouldn't have got beaten that day," Frankel said. "[Javier Castellano] wasted a sixteenth of a mile to get in a position where he lost a position anyway. If he got him back right away and got him to the outside, he could've made one sustained run."

The race that proved Ghostzapper was a top horse was the Vosburgh. Last of 10 early on, Ghostzapper unleashed a powerful stretch kick that carried him to a 6 1/2-length victory. His final time of 1:14.72 for 6 1/2 furlongs was only 0.32 second off the Belmont Park track record.

Frankel said he did not think Ghostzapper's style would be suitable for Santa Anita, and that is why he opted not to run him in the Breeders' Cup Sprint that year.

In 2004, Ghostzapper was training toward a start in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct in April. He developed a quarter crack that forced to him miss that race. Instead, he made his 4-year-old debut in the Tom Fool, beating three rivals by 4 1/4 lengths and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 120.

Frankel was pointing Ghostzapper to the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, but Ghostzapper developed another foot problem that forced him to miss that race. Frankel had considered keeping Ghostzapper sprinting, but eventually opted to run in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park. It was his first start around two turns.

Ghostzapper won the Iselin by 10 3/4 lengths and cemented his future as a router. Ghostzapper earned a hard-fought neck victory over Saint Liam in the Woodward before winning the Breeders' Cup Classic by three lengths in stakes-record time (1:59) over a group that included Pleasantly Perfect, Roses in May, and Funny Cide.

After the Met Mile, Frankel has mapped out a campaign that could include the Suburban (July 2), the Whitney (Aug. 6), and the Woodward (Sept. 10) before returning in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 29. Should Ghostzapper win all those races, Frankel said he would suggest to owner Frank Stronach that Ghostzapper end his career in a grass race, either at Hollywood Park or in Japan.

"Do like Secretariat did," Frankel said, "and run his last race on grass to show how good a grass horse he was, too."