01/01/2018 8:48AM

Sparkman: Ghostzapper remains a presence with daughter's win in Tropical Park Oaks

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Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photos
Ghostly Presence, a daughter of Ghostzapper, wins the Tropical Park Oaks at Gulfstream on Saturday.

Both the positives and negatives of the big book era of the Thoroughbred breeding industry can be read in the details of the stud career of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. With the victory of his daughter Ghostly Presence in the Tropical Park Oaks on Saturday, Ghostzapper stands ninth on the 2017 general sire list, the fourth year in a row he will rank among the nation’s top 20 sires.

But barring the advent of a son comparable to Arrogate, who almost singlehandedly made the late Unbridled’s Song 2017’s leading sire, Ghostzapper is unlikely to climb much higher on the list. Ghostzapper has never covered the enormous books of mares common to many of his contemporaries, and his 213 individual starters in 2017 is the highest of his career. That’s certainly a respectable number, but pales in comparison to horses ranked ahead of him like Candy Ride (248), Kitten’s Joy (348), Tapit (296), Scat Daddy (296), and Malibu Moon (301).

Although one superstar can propel a stallion to the top of the list, as Arrogate proved, numbers matter, which is one of the reasons most contemporary stallion managers book as many mares as possible to their stallions, especially young ones. But there are other numbers that matter in determining the quality of a stallion, and Ghostzapper fares very well indeed by those measures. Among this year’s top 10 stallions, only the late Scat Daddy sports a higher ratio of stakes winners to foals age 3 and up, at 12.3% compared to Ghostzapper’s 11.3%, and Ghostzapper’s percentages of graded stakes winners and Grade 1 winners are just as impressive.

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Until American Pharoah and perhaps Arrogate came along, Ghostzapper was widely considered to be the best American racehorse since at least Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, and certainly the best horse of the early 21st century. Even now, believers in speed figures could argue he retains pride of place among the century’s best so far. Bred and raced by Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, he won 1 of 2 starts at 2, but did not really blossom until late in his 3-year-old season, when he captured the Grade 1 Vosburgh with a sweeping late run.

Ghostzapper was never beaten again, racing only five more times over the next two seasons. He clinched Horse of the Year honors at 4 with an all-the-way tour-de-force in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and closed his career at 5 with another brilliant display in the 2005 Met Mile. Retired to his birthplace with a record of 9 wins in 11 starts, his early stud career suffered from overly ambitious pricing on an initial stud fee of $200,000.

At that price Ghostzapper needed to sire seven-figure sales toppers, fast 2-year-olds, and Kentucky Derby winners right off the bat, and given his own late-developing profile, that was never in the cards. Slowly but surely, however, he has rebuilt his reputation with a series of solid if not spectacular performers, led by this year’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap winner Shaman Ghost (out of Getback Time, by Gilded Time) who was also Canada’s champion 3-year-old male in 2015.

Ghostzapper’s first big star was Judy the Beauty (Holy Blitz, by Holy Bull), who earned champion female sprinter honors with her victory in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, and he has sired eight other Grade 1 or Group 1 winners.

Ghostly Presence is unlikely to reach those heights. Bred in Ontario and raced by Chiefswood Stable, Ghostly Presence is the first foal out of the unraced Distorted Humor mare Five N Forty, who has since produced a current 2-year-old filly by Scat Daddy named Sport’n Forty and a 2017 filly by City Zip before being bred back to Ghostzapper.

Five N Forty is half-sister to graded-stakes-placed Awesome Overture, by Ghostzapper’s sire, Awesome Again, out of the Grade 3 Seaway Stakes winner Fifth Overture, by Pulpit. Fifth Overture is half-sister to stakes winner Gold from the West, by Gone West. Gold from the West is the granddam of another weekend stakes winner Silent Bird, by Summer Bird, and to stakes winner Lake Music, by Salt Lake, dam of stakes winner Spanish Lullaby, by Lite the Fuse. The family has been successful mostly in Canada since the importation of Ghostly Presence’s stakes-winning fourth dam Nonoartica, by Nonoalco, in the 1980s, but represents a branch of the famous Pretty Polly family that has been providing top-class racehorses for more than a century.