'Zapper zaps mark in Breeders

Stronach's Ghostzapper runs fastest Classic ever on racing's biggest day

October 31, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Bobby Frankel, the Hall of Fame trainer, has endured some gut-wrenching Breeders' Cups.

Entering the 21st renewal yesterday at Lone Star Park near Dallas, he was 2-for-57 in what Americans call the world thoroughbred championships. He trained the beaten favorite the past three years in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the event's climactic race.

Things weren't looking any better yesterday. Frankel lost with his first five horses.

"I thought, `Another Breeders' Cup. I hate this day,'" Frankel said.

Then came the $4 million Classic, in which Frankel saddled the favorite - again. But this time, the Frankel horse not only won but also dazzled.

Ghostzapper led the Classic every step, won by three lengths and ran the fastest Classic ever. His time of 1 minute, 59.02 seconds for 1 1/4 miles eclipsed Skip Away's mark of 1:59.16 in 1997.

"He's just a very, very good horse," Frankel said of Ghostzapper. "Maybe he'll be known as a great horse."

Frank Stronach owns Ghostzapper as well as his sire Awesome Again, who won the 1998 Classic and also produced Wilko, surprise winner of yesterday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Stronach is head of Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns or operates 14 horse tracks, including Pimlico, Laurel Park and Lone Star.

"It's unbelievable," Stronach said of Ghostzapper's win. "I consider myself extremely blessed. Horse racing has been very good to me. I hope I can give something back."

On a gloriously sunny, warm day in front of a jubilant crowd of 53,717, Ghostzapper broke from his inside post ahead of his 12 competitors and, literally, never looked back. His jockey Javier Castellano immediately guided him off the rail, as per Frankel's instructions (Frankel said the rail was deep and tiring).

Roses in May, who, like Ghostzapper, entered the race undefeated this year, challenged from the beginning. Ghostzapper led by a half length around the first turn and then by a length entering the far turn.

Pleasantly Perfect, winner of last year's Classic, and the long-shot Perfect Drift unleashed extremely wide challenges around that final turn. But as they straightened out in the homestretch, they couldn't gain on Ghostzapper, who stretched his lead to three lengths as he passed under wire.

Roses in May held on for second. Pleasantly Perfect claimed third. And Perfect Drift snared fourth.

Ghostzapper paid $7 to win and headed a $46.60 exacta, $164 trifecta and $1,297.80 superfecta. This was his seventh win in nine starts and his first race farther than 1 1/8 miles.

Until this summer, Ghostzapper was a sprinter. Frankel raced him farther than seven furlongs for the first time Aug. 21 in the Iselin Handicap, a 1 1/8 -mile stakes at Monmouth Park. Ghostzapper romped by 10 3/4 lengths. Then, in the Woodward Stakes Sept. 11 at Belmont Park, Ghostzapper battled every step of the 1 1/8 miles with Saint Liam before prevailing by a neck.

That was his last race before the Classic. Frankel likes to bring his horses fresh into big races. He was quietly confident about Ghostzapper's chances.

"On the q.t., I told everybody he's the best horse I ever trained," Frankel said.

Asked what traits make him better than his other horses, Frankel said: "He's just faster than they are."

Although lightly raced, Ghostzapper's 4-for-4 season, culminating in his triumphant Classic, enlivens the debate about Horse of the Year. Smarty Jones, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, still has his supporters.

Frankel said he believes it's clear-cut.

"It's a simple vote right now," he said, throwing his weight behind his horse. "They ought to give Horse of the Year to the best horse. I think he is the best horse in the country - by far."

The Classic was so deep that several entrants drew extraordinary interest. Azeri, the 6-year-old mare, ran with Ghostzapper and Roses in May until the final turn and finished fifth. Birdstone, the Belmont and Travers winner, finished a lackluster seventh.

Funny Cide, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, entered the race with lofty expectations. Barclay Tagg, his trainer, said Funny Cide had never looked, acted or trained better.

After the race, Tagg said: "He ran terrible."

Added Jose Santos, his jockey: "He struggled the whole time with the track. What can you say?"

Fastest Breeders' Cup Classics*

Horse....Time....Year....Track

Ghostzapper...1:59.02...2004...Lone Star Park

Skip Away...1:59.16...1997...Hollywood Park

Cat Thief...1:59.52...1999...Gulfstream Park

Cigar...1:59.58...1995...Belmont Park

Pleasantly Perfect...1:59.88... 2003...Santa Anita Park

*Breeders' Cup Classic is 1 1/4 miles

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