04/24/2015 1:47PM

Sparkman: Ghostzapper enjoys big weekend

Barbara D. Livingston
Charles Town Classic winner Moreno was one of two graded stakes winners last weekend for sire Ghostzapper.

The race records of the half-brothers Ghostzapper and City Zip are, in a sense, mirror images of each other. City Zip was a top-class 2-year-old, winning the Grade 1 Hopeful and three other graded stakes from 11 starts, but he was not quite as effective at 3, though still a very fast horse, and retired to stud at 4. Ghostzapper, by contrast, raced only twice at 2 but did not win his first stakes until late fall of his 3-year-old season. Ghostzapper never lost again after that win in the Grade 1 Vosburgh, earning Horse of the Year honors at 4 and taking the Metropolitan Handicap at 5 before retiring to stud at 6.

Those differences in rate of maturity were at least somewhat reflective of their respective sires. Carson City, sire of City Zip, was a precocious 2-year-old whose race record closely resembled his son’s. Similarly, Awesome Again, sire of Ghostzapper, did not race at all at 2, ran somewhat sparingly at 3, and went unbeaten in a six-race 4-year-old campaign culminating in a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory duplicated by his son six years later.

The stud careers of Ghostzapper and City Zip have been rather more parallel, with each starting off somewhat slowly but building highly respectable records that peaked with victories for their offspring at the 2014 Breeders’ Cup meeting. City Zip, in fact, was the unexpected star sire at Santa Anita last fall with Dayatthespa and Work All Week making him the only sire with two winners at the Breeders’ Cup, but Ghostzapper has been the better sire overall. Judy the Beauty provided him with his first Breeders’ Cup victory last fall, but it is unlikely that she will be his last.

Ghostzapper’s prowess as a sire was on display again last weekend when his son Moreno captured the week’s most valuable race, the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, while Whiskey Ticket added a Grade 3 win in the Illinois Derby. Whiskey Ticket is Ghostzapper’s 45th stakes winner from 457 foals age 3 and up, a 9.8 percent stakes winners-to-foals ratio that compares very favorably not only to his half-brother’s respectable 6.7 percent rate but to every other top stallion now at stud. Among the 13 other American stallions with stud fees equal to or above Ghostzapper’s $60,000 fee this year, only Speightstown (10.5 percent), War Front (10.5 percent), and Distorted Humor (10 percent) sport comparable ratios.

Bred in Kentucky by Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, Ghostzapper was the fifth foal out of Baby Zip, by Relaunch, a minor stakes winner Stronach claimed for only $47,500 at Laurel Park in 1995. Ghostzapper was from the first crop of his sire, Awesome Again (by Deputy Minister), a horse Stronach bred in Canada who developed into one of the best horses in North America at 4 in 1998.

Stronach had sold the crooked-legged City Zip for only $9,000 as a yearling, but he did not offer his big, correct, solidly made half-brother Ghostzapper for sale, but sent him to Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. Over the last 20 years or so of his long and enormously successful career, Frankel was one of the pioneers of the trend among trainers of giving horses more time between races, and Ghostzapper raced only 11 times over four seasons in training. While there were minor injuries that accounted for some gaps in his record, Ghostzapper proved a near-perfect example of Frankel’s methods.

Still, the transformation Frankel wrought in Ghostzapper between his 3- and 4-year-old seasons has to stand as his crowning achievement. Throughout his first two seasons in training, Ghostzapper ran like a come-from-behind sprinter. Wide-margin winner of his first start as a late 2-year-old, he was injured when fourth in his second start and missed the next six months. Two come-from-behind allowance victories and a too-late third in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop preceded a swoop-from-the clouds, 6 1/2-length devastation of a field of very fast sprinters in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Ghostzapper had been completely outpaced, hustled along in last 13 lengths behind the early pace in the Vosburgh, but when he reappeared in the Grade 2 Tom Fool Handicap over seven furlongs nearly 10 months later, he was readily able to sit a couple of lengths off a fast pace and gallop away to a 4 1/4-length win. Six weeks later, he was pressing a 22.84- and 45.92-second pace on a sloppy track in the Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap before romping to a 10 3/4-length win.

A month later, Ghostzapper battled almost all the way on the lead with another future Horse of the Year, Saint Liam, before pulling out a neck win in 1:46.38 for the 1 1/8 miles. The Breeders’ Cup Classic at Lone Star Park was even more revelatory, as Ghostzapper grabbed the lead from Roses in May right out of the gate and could not be caught, setting a track record of 1:59.02 for the 1 1/4 miles. Ghostzapper raced only once more, coming from just off the pace to win the Met Mile in 1:33.29 in his only start at 5. By the end of his career, Ghostzapper had become a running machine of a type rarely seen this century.

Ghostzapper retired to Stronach’s Adena Springs in Kentucky in 2006 at a record-equaling initial fee of $200,000 that in many ways shaped perceptions of his early stud career. When his first yearlings conceived at that rather hubristic fee appeared in yearling sales in 2008, the market – as well as the global economy – was on the edge of collapse, and their conformation did not generally please yearling buyers.

When Ghostzapper’s first few crops, predictably, did not quickly mature into champion 2-year-olds and classic winners, the backlash against him was vicious, and his stud fee and patronage by breeders plummeted. While Ghostzapper was being widely proclaimed a failure, however, a funny thing happened. His progeny improved with age, just as their sire and grandsire did, and started winning graded stakes at 3 and up. Stately Victor (out of Collect the Cash, by Dynaformer) became his first Grade 1 winner in the Blue Grass Stakes, and Hunters Bay (Smok’n Frolic, by Smoke Glacken) earned champion older male honors in Canada at 5.

That first crop of 80 named foals from the elite mares demanded by his $200,000 stud fee eventually included 12 stakes winners, a more-than-acceptable 15 percent stakes winners-to-foals ratio, but by that time, his fee had fallen below $50,000. Over the last two years, though, Ghostzapper’s reputation has revived considerably through the exploits of his Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner and champion female sprinter Judy the Beauty (Holy Blitz, by Holy Bull), and Grade 1 winners Better Lucky (Sahara Gold, by Seeking the Gold), Contested (Gold Vault, by Arch), Starship Truffles (Bobbie Use, by Not For Love), and Moreno.

Bred in Kentucky by Mike Moreno’s Southern Equine Stables, Moreno is the second foal out of Danceinthesunlight, a beautifully bred unraced A.P. Indy mare Moreno purchased for $675,000 from Sam-Son Farm at the 2008 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Danceinthesunlight was one of five foals out of Dancethruthedawn, by Mr. Prospector, Canadian champion 3-year-old filly and winner of the Queen’s Plate in 2001. Danceinthesunlight’s full sister Dance With Doves is the dam of Dance Again, by Ghostzapper’s sire, Awesome Again.

Dancethruthedawn was a full sister to another Queen’s Plate winner, Scatter the Gold, both by Mr. Prospector out of perhaps the best filly ever bred in Canada, Dance Smartly, by Danzig, winner of the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and a Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner in Canada.

Since Dance Smartly was a half-sister to the late dual leading sire Smart Strike, by Mr. Prospector, it is a shame Moreno had to be gelded for him to show his best form. He clearly was highly regarded by trainer Eric Guillot from the start, since Moreno ran him in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes a month after his third in a Hollywood Park maiden race in his first start.

Moreno did not win for the first time until his 10th start almost a year later but proceeded to run away with the Grade 2 Dwyer. He very nearly captured the prestigious Travers two starts later, leading most of the way, then battling back when headed by Kentucky Derby winner Orb at the head of the stretch before succumbing by a nose to the late charge of the eventual champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge.

That proved just how good Moreno can be when he wants to run and conditions are right. Amazingly, conditions have been right enough for Moreno to win only four times in 26 starts, but he has been good enough on the big occasions to amass $2,926,940 in earnings, and his wins include the Grade 1 Whitney last year. Allowed a comfortable early lead, Moreno can be a very difficult horse to pass.

Danceinthesunlight since has produced an unraced 3-year-old gelding by Street Sense named Moreno Street and a 2014 colt by Giant’s Causeway.

Moreno is inbred 5x3 to Mr. Prospector, who is the most common close duplication in the pedigrees of Ghostzapper’s best offspring, also appearing twice in the pedigrees of the Grade 1 winners Better Lucky, Contested, and Starship Truffles. Since Mr. Prospector is the second-most widely prevalent name in contemporary pedigrees, this is not at all surprising and likely not terribly meaningful.

Like most stallions, Ghostzapper has found his true level, despite fluctuations in his stud fee and the wildly gyrating perceptions of breeders. He never is likely to be particularly popular as a sire of sales yearlings, since his offspring tend to be big but visibly immature at that stage of their development.

Like his half-brother City Zip, however, Ghostzapper has earned respect through solid performance.