A Classic Legacy, Part 1: Awesome Again, Ghostzapper and Frank Stronach

November 12, 2022

Ghostzapper and Javier Castallano winning by 3 lengths. Photo courtesy of The Breeders’ Cup

Awesome Again and the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic

By Maribeth Kalinich

It’s quite an honor for a breeder to watch their horse win a Breeders’ Cup race. The penultimate the Classic. To see two of their horses, win, amazing. A sire, son. Outstanding. How about two of the deepest fields in Breeders’ Cup Classic history. Phenomenal. 

Frank Stronach has done just that. 

In 1998, campaigned for Stronach Stables and racing with Adena Springs colors Awesome Again would win the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the ages. Six years later his son Ghostzapper would win one of the most iconic Classics ever. 

They were the only sire and son to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

AWESOME AGAIN would win nine of his twelve starts with two third places collecting $4,374,590 in earnings. He won an allowance at Churchill Downs on May 22, 1998, and then proceeded to rack up five graded stakes. The crescendo was the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. 

The Deputy Minister colt out of Blushing Groom (FR) mare Primal Force would win his second start at iconic Hollywood Park by an emphatic six lengths under Chris McCarron. Then it was back to the Great White North to join stakes company in the prestigious Queen’s Plate at Woodbine.

Trained by Patrick Byrne and this time with Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the irons, Awesome Again drew clear and would win with a driving finish by 3 1/2 lengths.

Awesome Again would head east to Saratoga with Smith piloting and score his first graded stakes in the Jim Dandy. 

There would be two setbacks in the Travers at Saratoga and Super Derby at Louisiana Downs Sept. 28,1997, so being smart a owner and trainer, the Awesome Again team gave the colt a layup.

Awesome Again would come back May 22, 1998, in an Allowance at Churchill Downs and live up to his name. He smashed the race by seven lengths with Shane Sellers as his new rider. 

After that, the steely colt could clip off a graded stakes a month. June 13, the Stephen Foster (G3) with Pat Day up by one length. And the colt’s speed figures were increasing. He earned an Equibase Speed Figure (ESF) of 115

Aug. 8 the Whitney (G1) with Day, now his regular rider, by three lengths, ESF 121. Aug. 30 Saratoga Breeders Cup Handicap (G2) by three, ESF 120. Oct. 10 Hawthorne Gold Cup (G3) by 1 3/4, ESF 118. Then it was on to his career finale at the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 7, 1998. 

Awesome Again retired to Stronach’s Adena Springs in Kentucky and become an excellent stallion passing on his talent, conformation and disposition.

As significant in the breeding shed as he was on the track, Awesome again sired three champions: Ghostzapper, 2004 Horse of the Year and champion older horse; Ginger Punch, 2007 champion older mare; and Nominee, a multiple champion in Trinidad and Tobago. His other elite runners include Old Friends retirees Game on Dude–who captured 14 graded stakes and is the only three-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap in history–and Awesome Gem, who captured the Hollywood Gold Cup at age 7; Breeder’s Cup Distaff winner Round Pond; Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Wilko; and 2019 year Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston.

Awesome Again’s conformation photo. Courtesy of Adena Springs

Awesome Again sired 13 millionaires and five multi-millionaires as well as four Breeders’ Cup Champions. Awesome Again was also the first Breeders’ Cup Classic winner to sire a BC Classic winner (Ghostzapper).

Awesome Again had been retired from stud duty at Adena in 2019 and was pensioned to Old Friends in October of this year along with the stallions Milwaukee Brew and Silver Max.

“Anyone who ever saw Awesome Again on the racetrack or at Adena Springs knew he was aptly-named,” said Old Friends’ Michael Blowen. “I’m just sorry his time at Old Friends was so short because I know he would have made a searing, lasting impression on his many fans, and I’m so sorry that circumstances prevented him from displaying his greatness for a lot longer. Awesome, indeed.”

The champion stallion at Old Friends. Photos by Laural Battles 

Awesome Again died suddenly at Old Friends December 16, 2020, at the age of 26 from unknown causes.

The 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic

1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic Field
P Horse – Jockey – Trainer – Owner
1. Awesome Again – Pat Day – Patrick Byrne – Stronach Stables
1a. Coronado’s Quest – Kent Desormeaux – Shug McGaughey – Stuart S. Janney, III, and Stonerside Stable
1x. Touch Gold – Chris McCarron – Patrick Byrne – Stronach Stables and Stonerside Stable
2. Victory Gallop – Alex Solis – William Walden – Prestonwood Farm LLC 
3. Swain (IRE) – Frankie Dettori – Saeed bin Suroor – Godolphin
4. Arch – Shame Sellers – Frank Brothers – Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider
5. Skip Away – Jerry Berry – Hubert Hine – Carolyn H. Hine
6. Running Stag – John Velazquez – Philip Mitchell – Richard J. Cohen
7. Silver Charm – Gary Stevens – Bob Baffert – Robert B. And Beverly J. Lewis
8. Gentlemen (ARG) – Corey Nakatani – Richard Mandella – R. D. Hubbard

Ten horses took part in the 1998 Classic. Between them they had won 69 stakes races with nine sharing 31 G1 wins. Their collective earnings sat just under $30 million. Eight of were millionaires. The only non-G1 winner, Running Stag, a multiple Graded stakes winner, would retire with more than $1.6 million in earnings.

A total 80,452 people were on hand that day, a record attendance for the Breeders’ Cup. The punters didn’t know what to do with such a bounty of riches as eight of the horses went off at odds under 9-1. Running Stag went off at 104-1.

Irish-bred Swain had become just the second horse to ever win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes twice.

Skip Away, who had already won seven races that year, five of them Grade I (the Donn Handicap, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Pimlico Special, Hollywood Gold Cup and Woodward Stakes). Despite having been beaten by Awesome Again in the Stephen Foster, Preakness winner Silver Charm was the second choice – a major factor being that the two horses would carry equal weights in the Classic compared to the 14-pound difference in the earlier race. 

The field also included Victory Gallop (Belmont Stakes), Coronado’s Quest (Haskell Invitational, Travers Stakes), Touch Gold (1997 Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational), Gentlemen (1997 Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic) and Arch (Super Derby). 

“The quality of the [1998] field was matched in recent history by only the 1973 Marlboro Cup, where Secretariat defeated stablemate Riva Ridge,” said Ray Paulick in a 2020 article in BloodHorse

“Best field I’ve ever seen,” Seth Hancock, president of Claiborne Farm on co-owner of one of the 10 Classic runners (Arch), told BloodHorse before the race. “You put up the money and you are going to get the best of the best.”

It was labeled by many as the greatest field of horses ever assembled and the 15th running of the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs more than lived up to its billing.

Awesome Again broke slowly and settled into eighth place behind a moderate early pace set by Coronado’s Quest. 

Coronado’s Quest set the pace with fractions of :23.56, :47.69 and 1:12.09 over a fast track with Skip Away and Arch in closest pursuit. Silver Charm was just behind the top trio and Awesome Again was eighth ahead of only Belmont winners Touch Gold and Victory Gallop.

On the far turn, Awesome Again began a four-wide move that would propel him to within 5 lengths of the lead at the top of the stretch when things got very interesting.

Silver Charm and Swain (IRE) who began drifting toward the grandstand.

Silver Charm wrested the lead away from a determined Coronado’s Quest in mid-stretch before he too drifted wide. This opened up a hole through which Awesome Again made his move.

“We came off the turn and they went into the grandstand,” said Awesome Again’s jockey Pat Day in a post-race press conference. “You could have drove a Mack Truck through that hole.”

“Awesome Again was hitting his best stride and I hadn’t really called on him,” said Day.

Awesome Again who surged past Silver Charm inside the sixteenth pole to complete a perfect 6-for-6 campaign. Awesome Again completed the mile and a quarter in 2:02.16.

The victory was the third for Day in the Classic and 10th of 12 Breeders’ Cup wins in total. For trainer Pat Byrne, it was the third of three Breeders’ Cup victories in two years.

Silver Charm finished a neck in front of Swain who finished a nose in front of Victory Gallop. Coronado’s Quest was another length back in fifth and two lengths in front of Skip Away who would go on to earn Horse of the Year honors.

Despite his winning streak, Awesome Again had been largely overlooked because he was considered to have faced weaker competition in his previous starts. “Maybe he did dodge some big guns early,” said Day to Joseph Durso of The New York Times. “But [the Classic] is the granddaddy of them all. This was the greatest field of horses I ever saw.” 

There is a prep race at Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Classic called the Awesome Again Stakes. The race, formally known as The Goodwood, was renamed in 2012 for 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again. 

The champion stallion at Old Friends. Photos by Laural Battles 

Order of Finish

1. Awesome
2. Silver Charm
3. Swain (IRE)
4. Victory Gallop
5. Coronado’s Quest
6. Skip Away
7. Running Stag
8. Touch Gold
9. Arch
10. Gentlemen (ARG)

In gratitude…

Many thanks to the Breeders’ Cup and Jim Gluckson for the awesome 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic photo and to Michael Blowen, Old Friends and Laura Battles for the photos of the pensioned Awesome Again. Adena Springs for the conformation photo of their fabulous stallion. And, I have to thank Awesome Again as he gave us perhaps the most exciting and most competitive Classic and he gave us Ghostzapper.

Contributing Authors

Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Maribeth Kalinich grew up in a family with a love for horses, a passion for Thoroughbred horse racing and a taste for playing the ponies....

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