When a stallion goes to stud amid great expectations and does not deliver – and deliver right now – the stampede away from him is emphatic. For a stallion to reverse the trend, to overturn the “disconfirmation of expectations,” as a noted breeder phrases it, requires some seriously good results and consistency in them also.
That is just what 2004 Horse of the Year and now leading sire Ghostzapper has done. The brawny bay son of Awesome Again, furthermore, has a leading candidate for the Triple Crown in McCraken, who won the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay on Feb. 11. Plus, his 3-year-old son Iliad won the G2 San Vicente at Santa Anita over the same weekend.
The strength of his offsprings’ performances this year are those of a leading sire, which Ghostzapper is. When the horse 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.
He deserved to be.
A winner of nine races from 11 starts, Ghostzapper was Horse of the Year in 2004, when he was undefeated in four starts and was by objective assessments one of the most talented Thoroughbreds of the last quarter-century, ranking very highly by career speed figures and other objective methods of evaluating form and class in Thoroughbred racehorses.
Through comparative lines of form, Ghostzapper was a monster, and the horses behind him in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic were an outstanding group that included the previous year’s BC Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect, Horse of the Year Azeri, Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, and Belmont winner Birdstone. In Ghostzapper’s prep for the Classic, he won the Woodward Stakes, defeating the 2005 BC Classic winner and Horse of the Year Saint Liam.
Ghostzapper himself made only a single start in 2005, an impressive victory in the Metropolitan Handicap, and a large breeding interest in both Ghostzapper and his sire were acquired by the late Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Farm.
So, when Ghostzapper retired to stand at stud in 2006, breeders lined up to send some of their best broodmares to the handsome and well-made son of Awesome Again, who was himself a red-hot sire as a winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a sire of a winner of that race, and sire as well of champion Ginger Punch, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Considering the natural speed that Ghostzapper possessed, most breeders and racehorse owners expected him to burst out of the gate as a sire of quick juveniles and sprinters that showed early maturity.
But part of a Thoroughbred’s job is to keep humans humble.
Ghostzapper had 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 as the colt acquired the strength to maintain that speed furlong after furlong. In hindsight, Ghostzapper is breeding horses that can also maintain a steady racing rhythm but generally do not have his exceptional speed.
Overall, Ghostzapper is transmitting the qualities typically associated with his sire Awesome Again and grandsire Deputy Minister. During their lengthy and successful careers, both tended to get horses that showed their top form at a mile or more and that frequently became better with age.
That was Ghostzapper’s pattern of growth and improvement too, and many of the sire’s best racers have shown their best form at 3 or later. The 3-year-old G1 winners Stately Victor (Blue Grass) and Contested (Acorn) were the sire’s most “classic” performers, while his more numerous G1 winners include older stars like Shaman Ghost (Woodward), Judy the Beauty (Breeders’ Cup Filly Sprint), Moreno (Whitney), Starship Truffles (Princess Rooney), and Molly Morgan (La Troienne).
To date, Ghostzapper has 53 stakes winners and ranks as the nation’s second-leading sire, in large part due to Shaman Ghost’s second in the Pegasus World Cup last month. But McCraken became one of his sire’s 10 stakes-winning 2-year-olds last season and is one of the strongly fancied candidates for the Triple Crown.
With the expected pattern of growth and improvement from Ghostzapper’s stock, McCraken has more than average promise to continue to rise and prosper. Likewise, Ghostzapper’s sire results have improved year by year, and he may be poised for the best year of his stallion career.