Stronach Stables’ Shaman Ghost earned his second career Grade I victory by three-quarters of a length in Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (GI) at Santa Anita Park. The 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper is trained by Jimmy Jerkens and was ridden to victory by reigning Eclipse Award winner Javier Castellano.
As the narrow 6-5 favorite in the field of nine older runners, Shaman Ghost paid $4.60, $2.60 and $2.40. Second choice Midnight Storm, who led all the way until the final yards, checked in for second-place honors and was good for $3 and $2.80. Longshot Follow Me Crev was worth $5 at odds of nearly 19-1. The exacta paid $5.50 and the trifecta returned $32.90.
Hi Happy, Isotherm, Hard Aces, Twentytwentyvision, Gangster and Imperative completed the order of finish.
As expected, Midnight Storm sped right to the lead from the break and under a confident ride from Rafael Bejarano, led the field through moderate splits of :23.54, :47.52, 1:11.76 and 1:36.18. Isotherm chased the frontrunner to his outside, while Shaman Ghost sat off the pace in third, hugging the rail and waiting patiently for his chance to move. As Midnight Storm rounded the bend, Shaman Ghost was asked for run and under a vigorous ride from Castellano, was swung out for clear running room as he approached the quarter pole and as Isotherm began to fade and drop back.
At the top of the lane with only Midnight Storm in front of him, Shaman Ghost wore down his rival with each stride while racing out toward the center of the track and weaving in and out a bit. With less than a sixteenth to go, he had reached even terms and made the lead within the last few strides. Shaman Ghost dug in under a vigorous ride and a stiff left-handed stick from his pilot to prevail, stopping the clock in 2:01.57 for the 1 ¼-mile distance, more than three seconds slower than the track mark of 1:58.17 set by three-time Big ‘Cap winner Game On Dude in 2014.
“I knew there wasn’t a lot of speed in the race so I just wanted to focus on the horse in the lead, Midnight Storm, and keep track of him,” said Castellano. “[Shaman Ghost] was comfortable the whole way. I knew I had it won at the eighth pole. I asked him for full speed and he gave it to me right away. I said, ‘Yes!’
“I tried to get away from Midnight Storm in the stretch, I could tell that my horse was a little sensitive to going by the other horse. I switched my stick to my left and, tried to make him switch leads to go by and that’s what he did. He’s a classy horse. With not a lot of speed in the race I had to ask him a little, put him really close to the pace and he responded. Very classy horse.”
Ontario-bred Shaman Ghost, who is out of the Gilded Time mare Getback Time, picked up $450,000 for Saturday’s win to bring his total earnings to $3,539,311 and his career line now stands at 15-7-2-2. He won last year’s Woodward Stakes (GI) and Brooklyn Invitational Stakes (GII), as well as the 2015 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine and was Canada’s Sovereign Award-winning 3-year-old that year. He was also second to division leader Arrogate in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup (GI) in January.
“He was in a nice spot the whole way,” Jerkens said. “And then when the leader kicked away a little on the turn, for a second, it looked like he was getting a little discouraged. Javier was able to head him to the outside, out of the dirt, and I felt good right before they turned for home. I felt like, ‘may the best horse win.’
“It didn’t look on paper like there was much pace, so it didn’t surprise me the he was placed where he was. He’s been showing up in all of is races, so I think he should get some respect now.”