05/28/2012 4:10PM

Performance of the Week: Hunters Bay

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Michael Burns
Hunters Bay, with Emma-Jayne Wilson riding, wins the Eclipse Stakes.

With a powerful effort in the Grade 3 Eclipse Stakes at Woodbine on May 26, Hunters Bay served notice that he will be a force at the upper level of the Canadian handicap division.

Trained by Reade Baker for Stronach Stables, Hunters Bay was sent away the 7-5 favorite in the 11-horse Eclipse despite the lack of any prior stakes experience. Furthermore, his heavy public support was somewhat surprising considering the quality of his opposition. Mister Marti Gras, a multiple Grade 3 winner, recently finished third in the Grade  2, $1 million Charles Town Classic. Hothersal, a Eugene Melnyk homebred, hit the board in all four prior starts, including a popular entry-level allowance in his Polytrack debut on April 29. Queen’splatekitten, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the $171,000 Marine Stakes over the Eclipse course and trip last year. Pender Harbour prevailed in two-thirds of Canada’s Triple Crown in 2011 en route to being named champion 3-year-old male. Grade 2 winner Stunning Stag was closing in on $900,000 in career earnings and had not finished out of the superfecta since April 27, 2008. City Wolf, a half-brother to American Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, scored the Grade 3 Durham Cup last October. Multiple stakes-winner Check Your Soul, the beaten favorite in last year’s Queen’s Plate, was hoping to regain his best form as was 2009 Queen’s Plate hero Eye of the Leopard. Grade 3 winner James Street and stakes-placed Alpha Bettor completed the field.

Ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson, Hunters Bay assumed a pace-tracking spot on the first turn while racing in the two path.  Meanwhile, Mister Marti Gras, Hothersal, and Queen’splatekitten sparred through fractions of 24.80 and 48.86. Wilson sent Hunters Bay after Mister Marti Gras and Hothersal with a three-wide bid following three-quarters in 1:12.75 and Hunters Bay assumed control turning for home. Despite carrying his head awkwardly and seemingly looking at the stands, Hunters Bay drew out to a comfortable victory, three lengths better than Mister Marti Gras at the wire. The final time of 1:42.63 was only .41 of a second off the Woodbine Polytrack record for 1 1/16 miles. Hunters Bay received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure, the third triple-digit number in his 10-start career.

Hunters Bay is by Ghostzapper, one of the more celebrated performers in recent years. From Sept. 27, 2003 through his final career race on May 30, 2005, Ghostzapper was untouchable, winning six graded races in a row.  Among those victories were Grade 1 tallies in the 6 1/2-furlong Vosburgh Stakes, the 1 1/8-mile Woodward Stakes, the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the Metropolitan Handicap at one mile.

From four crops of racing age, Ghostzapper has sired Stately Victor, the winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes over the Keeneland Polytrack.

Hunters Bay’s dam, Smok’n Frolic, won the $82,000 Fashion Stakes at five furlongs, the Grade 3 Tempted Stakes at one mile, and the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes at nine furlongs during her juvenile filly campaign in 2001.  The following season, she won the Grade 2 Cotillion Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. At 4, she prevailed in the $750,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff and Grade 3 Turfway Park Breeders’ Cup Stakes at 1 1/16 miles and the Grade 3 Next Move Handicap at nine furlongs. Smok’n Frolic returned to the races for her five-year-old season and she repeated in the Next Move at Aqueduct.

Stronach purchased Smok’n Frolic for $1.25  million at the 2004 Keeneland November breeding auction. Four years later, she was purchased by Shadai Farm for $750,000 and was exported to Japan.

Hunters Bay was foaled on March 7, 2007, in Kentucky. He was offered for sale at Stronach’s Adena Springs juvenile auction in 2009, but was a $110,000 buy-back. Instead, Stronach kept the colt and sent him to Pletcher for his early racetrack education.

Hunters Bay failed to race at 2, but he won his second start at 3 by 8 1/2 lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Belmont. Hunters Bay backed up that win with a victory in an entry-level allowance around two turns at Monmouth on July 3, 2010.
Unfortunately, Hunters Bay was plagued by minor physical problems and he was away from the races from the remainder of his 3-year-old season.

Transferred to Baker’s barn, Hunters Bay ran a pair of big races to start his 4-year-old campaign at Gulfstream, but was denied each time by razor-sharp foes. He put up a 103 Beyer in his first start of that year, but was only second-best behind Groomedforvictory, who returned to take a stakes race in New York.  Three horses came back from that optional claimer to win next out, but Hunters Bay was not one of them. Instead, he ran a 102 Beyer in yet another key race, but finished a neck behind Caixa Eletronica, who would win the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap in his next outing.
After a fourth-place effort in his third start of the 2011 Gulfstream meet, Hunters Bay shipped to Baker’s home quarters at Woodbine. He won his Polytrack debut in a seven-furlong, second-level optional claimer on May  14, but was then put on the shelf once again.

Hunters Bay emerged again at Gulfstream on March 3, 2012 with a runner-up performance behind Grade 2 winner Pants On Fire.  In his return to Polytrack, he prepped for the Eclipse with a win in a third-level optional claimer going seven furlongs.

Versatile like his sire and dam, Hunters Bay has won at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. Although certainly capable on dirt, it seems as if he has found a home on Polytrack with three wins from as many races on the surface.

Baker’s challenge is to keep Hunters Bay healthy. If he succeeds, the Ghostzapper colt should have a solid year in graded events over Polytrack in Canada.