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The following post first appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.

With another pair of graded stakes victories over the weekend – Mystical Star in the New York Stakes at Belmont and Hunters Bay in the Dominion Day at Woodbine – the 12-year-old sire Ghostzapper is having the best year of his stud career. That career began with great expectations but has felt bumps in the road because the industry has suffered from a fierce depression largely due to the state of the international economy and because his offspring did not succeed as expected from their first days on the racetrack.

When he went to stud at Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs Farm in Kentucky in 2006 for a stud fee of $200,000 live foal, Ghostzapper was one of the hottest and most highly prized stallion prospects in years. Winner of nine races from 11 starts, Ghostzapper was Horse of the Year in 2004, when he was undefeated in four starts, and ranked very highly overall according to speed figures and other methods of evaluating form and class in Thoroughbreds.

The list of horses behind him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2004 provided an outstanding group. They included the previous year’s BC Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect, Horse of the Year Azeri, Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, Belmont winner Birdstone, and other top animals. In Ghostzapper’s prep for the Classic, he won the Woodward Stakes, where he defeated the following year’s BC Classic winner and Horse of the Year Saint Liam.

Ghostzapper made only a single start in 2005, an impressive victory in the Metropolitan Handicap, and a breeding interest in both Ghostzapper and his sire were acquired by the late Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Farm.

Therefore, when Ghostzapper retired to stand at stud in 2006, breeders lined up to breed to the handsome and well-made son of Awesome Again, who was a red-hot sire himself as a winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, sire of a winner of that race, as well as champion Ginger Punch and other fine racers.

Considering that the champion was a very fast horse, many observers expected Ghostzapper to burst out of the gate as a sire of juveniles and sprinters that showed early maturity and bags of speed. Those folk were miserably disappointed.

None were probably more surprised by the early results from the Ghostzapper stock than the people handling the horse at Adena Springs. Jack Brothers of Adena said that “To me, the biggest mystery would have been if he hadn’t begun to get good horses, but we may never know why he didn’t get them right away. He was such a brilliant racehorse and had such high speed”  – a prime reason breeders sent outstanding mares to Ghostzapper.

The results have improved year by year, and Ghostzapper, with his third crop of 3-year-olds on the track, now ranks in the top 20 stallions nationally. “The crops seem to be getting progressively better,” Brothers said, “but I don’t see any reasons we could put a definitive light on why it would happen that way.”

It might simply have been the roll of the genetic dice. To date, Ghostzapper has sired 320 horses of racing age, with 18 stakes winners (6 percent), but only four stakes winners at 2. And 10 of the stallion’s stakes winners are graded winners, such as 2012 Acorn Stakes winner Contested and Sands Point winner Better Lucky. In addition to these recent premium performers, Ghostzapper was represented last weekend also by Dwyer Stakes third Morgan’s Guerrilla and Dominion Day third Stately Victor, who won the Blue Grass two years ago at Keeneland.

One reason for Ghostzapper’s performance at stud is that he is not breeding his trademark speed so much as he is transmitting the qualities typically associated with his sire Awesome Again and grandsire Deputy Minister. Both tend to get horses that show their best at a mile or more and that frequently are better with age.

In fact, Ghostzapper himself won only a maiden at 2 and did not win a stakes until the Vosburgh very late in his 3-year-old season. During his early racing, trainer Bobby Frankel also placed Ghostzapper cautiously in shorter events that showcased the horse’s amazing speed that he was able to maintain furlong after furlong. In hindsight, Ghostzapper is breeding stock that also can maintain a steady racing rhythm but do not have his blinding speed. Few ever have.

Intriguingly, Ghostzapper is also putting a lot of versatility for surface in his foals, which win their graded stakes on dirt, turf, and synthetic. Ghostzapper stood for a highly respectable $20,000 stud fee in 2012, but with the interest he is generating from his results this year, that figure may be going up for next season.

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