A Classic Legacy, Part 2: Awesome Again, Ghostzapper and Frank Stronach

November 12, 2022

Ghostzapper and Javier Castallano winning by 3 lengths. Photo courtesy of Cindy Pierson Duley/Horse-Races.net

Ghostzapper and the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic

By Maribeth Kalinich

The encore to the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic was Ghostzapper’s 2004 performance. The 1998 Classic was said to be the greatest field ever assembled. Then the 2004 race was said to be the best.

November 5, 2022, we saw Flightline win with a hand ride to an 8 1/2 victory and that race and Flightline were called the best. So, who is the BC Classic GOAT? 

GHOSTZAPPER. Just the name has a presence. 

Where did this name originate? Frank Stronach tells: “Well ghosts are very fast, and it takes a fast horse to Zap ‘em (them meaning the ghosts). So, the natural outcome for the name was Ghostzapper.” I like the story and I like the name. And I really really like this horse.

So much like his sire he could also have been named Awesome Again, Too.

Bred in Canada at Frank Stronach’s northern Adena Springs Farm, Stronach said he knew Ghostzapper was special when he was a yearling. “He had great conformation and just looked special,” he explained.  

Ghostzapper was out of Baby Zip, a Relaunch (grandsire of Tiznow) mare who had foaled City Zip, a champion. Stronach said he chose the nick because the bloodlines were an outcross.

When you have a special horse you get a special trainer, the best. Stronach got Bobby Frankel. What makes a trainer great is their ability to coax out the potential greatness in a Thoroughbred. And that was Frankel’s genius.

“You always feel good when you have one of the great trainers training your horses,” Frank Stronach said. 

Frankel knew exactly how to coax out greatness in Ghostzapper. And his ability to zap any ghost no matter how fast. “Not a ghost of a chance.”

Speedy Ghostzapper with Javier Castellano up crushing the Philip H. Iselin and Beyer records at Monmouth Park. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

In 2004, Ghostzapper earned the highest Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) for the year at 128 while winning the Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park. He also ran a 124 BSF in the BCC at Lone Star. 

The plain dark bay had quite a career with nine wins out of eleven starts, seven graded stakes. But, oh the way he won was stunning to watch. 

Frankel told XPress Bet’s Jon White that Ghostzapper was the best horse he ever trained. That’s a huge compliment coming from Hall of Famer Frankel.

As a 2-year-old, Ghostzapper raced only twice, winning his debut at Hollywood Park on November 16, 2002, and then a fourth in an Allowance at Santa Anita on December 26. 

Frankel thought he needed a little more time to mature and gave him a break until June 20, 2003. Returing in an Allowance and under Javier Castellano they rolled home to a win by 3 1/2 lengths.

Feeling he was ready to step up Frankel headed to Saratoga for Ghostzapper to face stakes company for the first time in the King’s Bishop Stakes on August 23. True to his style, Ghostzapper came off the pace and rallied. But there was a three-way battle between him, Valid Video and Great Notion. The latter two finished first and second respectively separated by a neck. The Zapper just behind. 

Ghostzapper in the Vosburgh at Belmont September 27, 2003. Photo: NYRA/Coglianese

Ghostzapper made his next start in the Grade I Vosburgh Stakes on at Belmont Park September 27. Despite having no stakes wins to his name, he was the second choice in a field of older horses. 

At a 1/4 mile he was in 10th, 1/2 mile he had moved up to seventh, by the top of the stretch he had accelerated to third and then he unleashed a “devastating” burst of speed pulling away to win by 6 12 lengths. 

“I was really surprised how fast he caught these horses”, said Frankel. “He was 12 (lengths) out of it, and the next thing you know, that’s him on the outside. I said, `How did he get there so fast?'” Frankel told BloodHorse.

His time for the 6 1/2 furlongs was 1:1435, just 15th of a second off the track record. His Equibase Speed Figure (ESF) had jumped from 100 in the King’s Bishop to 127 in the Vosburgh.

The power he exhibited cost him a bit as after Ghostzapper’s victory in the Vosburgh, he requied time off to recover from quarter cracks and a bruised hoof. 

Recover he did after winning his first graded stakes. In fact, Ghostzapper would never lose another race in his career.

On July 4 Ghostzapper made his first start of 2004 at Belmont Park in the Tom Fool. Uncharacteristically, he stayed close behind the early leaders and then moved to the lead on the far turn, drawing off to win by 4 1/4 lengths. He won the 7-furlong race in 1:20.42, just 25ths of a second off the track record. Ghostzapper earned a Beyer of 120.

Frankel knew the Zapper was primarily a sprinter but believed he could also handle distance. He said Ghostzapper was an easy horse to rate. 

The Hall of Fame conditioner chose to test Ghostzapper’s stamina in the Philip H. Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park on August 21 at 1 1/8 miles.

Ghostzapper in the Iselin. Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Over a muddy track, Ghostzapper won the race by 10 3/4 lengths in 1:47.66. 

This is the race in which he earned the astonishing 128 Beyer Speed rating, the highest ever assigned by the Daily Racing Form since they started publishing the numbers in 1992. 

The Form stated categorically, “There can be no argument that Ghostzapper is the fastest horse in the country.” (Before the numbers were published by the DRF, a few higher numbers were assigned by handicapper Andrew Beyer. Groovy, 1987 American Champion Sprint Horse, was the last horse to break the 130 Beyer Speed Figure, earning 133 and 132 in back-to-back 6-furlong races in 1987.)

Ghostzapper would next start in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park on September 11 at the same distance. 

Saint Liam, ridden by Edgar Prado, set the early pace then dug in during the stretch as Ghostzapper tried to close ground. The two ran stride for stride as Saint Liam drifted away from the rail and bumped several times with Ghostzapper. Ghostzapper persisted and finally got his head in front in the final few strides. 

“I kept yelling, ‘Prado, keep your horse straight!’ He bumped my horse a little bit, and my horse went on his wrong lead”, said Castellano in a post-race interview. “I love this horse. He’s got a good, good heart. This is the first time he had to win like this (in a stretch battle) and he showed how good he really is.”

Ghostzapper and Saint Liam battle it out in the Woodward. Photo: NYRA/Coglianese

Ghostzapper would run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 30 at Lone Star. We recap that race below.

After his Classic victory the Zapper would get some time off for ailments. Ghostzapper had a few ailments in his career, I asked Frank Stronach how did you and Bobby Frankel work around that? “Bobby Frankel is such a great trainer,” Stronach said. “I left it up to him to make the decisions.”

Ghostzapper won the 2004 American Horse of the Year title, beating Smarty Jones in votes 174–95. He was also voted the American Champion Older Male Horse. Ghostzapper was also named as the world’s top ranked racehorse by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) with a rating of 130.

Despite winning only four races in 2004, Ghostzapper earned high praise from many handicapping experts. For example, Len Friedman of the Ragozin Sheets called him “the most consistently fast horse of all time.” Jerry Brown from Thoro-Graph said, “To run as fast as he did in three consecutive races in essentially unheard of.” And Dick Jerardi wrote, “Ghostzapper is officially the fastest horse since Daily Racing Form began publishing Beyer Speed Figures in 1992.”

Although Ghostzapper could easily have earned millions of dollars a season as a stud, Stronach said he wanted to give something back to the game by returning Ghostzapper to competition in 2005. 

“I think he is a very exciting horse and I think I owe it to the racing public to run him next year”, he told BloodHorse’s Ron Mitchell after the Breeders’ Cup.

Ghostzapper was expected to start his 2005 campaign in the Oaklawn Handicap in April but had to be scratched. Frankel said he had a “sinus thing” and was running a temperature.

Finally, Ghostzapper would make his first start of 2005, the last of his career, a memorable one. The Awesome Again horse would start in a race his sire had won, the Met Mile at Belmont, exactly seven months after his Classic win.

He ran a little differently as he stayed just behind the pacesetters in third. At 3/4-mile mark Ghostzapper took the lead at Castellano’s command, and they flew to the finish by 6 1/4 lengths. 

“Few horses have devastated their opponents in so many ways, at so many distances, and in such fast times.”—Steve Haskin

“I know you dream of winning the Kentucky Derby, but the best dream is to know you have the best horse,” Frankel said to the Associated Press. “I’m very emotional right now. He’s a great horse, let’s just put it that way. 

“He’s an amazing horse. He’s probably the best sprinter in the country, and I think he can win going a mile and a half on the turf – I really do. (Castellano) never moved on him. He just took a hold of him in the stretch.”

Ghostzapper was retired from racing on June 13, 2005, after the discovery of a hairline fracture of his left front sesamoid bone. Although he only had one win in 2005, his connections felt it helped solidify Ghostzapper’s status as one of the all-time greats. 

While Frank Stronach had hoped his homebred would race all of 2005, he said “[Ghostzapper] had a small problem, we could have healed it in a couple of months, but he had proven he was a great horse, so we decided to retire him.”

“It was worth keeping him in training just for winning that one race”, said Frankel told the Associated Press. “He impressed people in the Met more than he did in the Breeders’ Cup, and he ended his career in style.” He retired with career earnings of $3,446,120.

Ghostzapper’s conformation photo. Courtesy of Hill n’ Dale Farm

He originally stood at Stronach’s Adena Springs Farm in Kentucky, with an initial stud fee of $200,000 per live foal, the highest fee ever for a first-time stallion at the time. He did not get off to a fast start when his first foals reached racing age in 2009, and his stud fee started to decline, to $150,000 in 2007, to a low of $20,000 in 2012. 

In 2013 however, he was represented by sixteen stakes winners and interest in him reignited. In 2015, his fee rebounded to $60,000, thanks to a growing number of stakes winners. In October 2020, Ghostzapper was relocated to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms in Kentucky with a 2022 fee of $75,000.

The Zapper’s offspring are still frequently seen on the track and at auctions as he continues his legacy. 

Two of Ghostzappers daughters competed in Breeders’ Cup races with one being a victor.

Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Goodnight Olive, owned by First Row Partners and Team Hanley, exited her race well. The Chad Brown-trainee will get a rest and point to a 2023 campaign that could include a stretch out in distance, with race such as the Madison, Ogden Phipps and a defense of the Ballerina squarely on her radar.

Moira, owned by X-Men Racing, Madaket Stables and SF Racing, finished fifth under Frankie Detorri in the Filly & Mare Turf (G1). They started from the outside post in the field of 12 and ended up 6 lengths behind the winner Tuesday.

The 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic

2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic Field
P. Horse – Jockey – Trainer – Owner
1. Ghostzapper – Javier Castellano  – Bobby Frankel – Stronach Stables 
2. Freefourinternet – Greta Kuntzweller – Mike Maker  – Equirace.com LLC 
3. Azeri  – Pat Day  – D. Wayne Lukas – Allen E. Paulson Living Trust 
4. Perfect Drift – Kent Desourmeaux – Murray Johnson  – Stonecrest Farm 
5. Fantastical – Gerard Melancon – Bobby Barnett  – R Bar S Thoroughbreds LLP 
6. Roses In May – John Velazquez – Dale Romans – Kenneth L. and Sarah K Ramsey 
7. Birdstone – Edgar Prado – Nick Zito – Marylou Whitney Stables LLC 
8. Personal Rush – Frankie Dettori – Kenji Yamauchi – Tomiro Fukami 
9. Funny Cide – Jose Santos – Barclay Tagg – Sackatoga Stable 
10. Newfoundland – Eibar Coa – Todd Pletcher – Sumaya U.S. Stable 
11. Bowman’s Band – Cornelio Velasquez – Allen H. Jerkens – Martin S. Schwartz 
12. Pleasantly Perfect – Jerry Bailey – Richard Mandella – Diamond A Racing Corporation 
13. Dynever – Corey Nakatani – Christophe Clement – Catherine Wills and Pete Karches 

Ghostzapper was a sprinter like his father, but he was about to run at 1 1/4 miles at Lone Star Park against a heady field.

Contending in the 2004 Classic was 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, defending Breeders’ Cup winner Pleasantly Perfect, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, Belmont Stakes champ Birdstone, multiple stakes winners Roses in May and Perfect Drift a six-time graded stakes winner who was third in the Kentucky Derby. 

Pleasantly Perfect went off at almost identical odds to Ghostzapper, with Ghostzapper a slight favorite. 

There were several factors of concern to the bettors. Ghostzapper had never run at the distance. And Bobby Frankel’s poor record at the Breeders’ Cup despite training some of the best horses in the country. Ghostzapper drew post position one and risked getting trapped on the rail.

Ghostzapper’s exercise rider, Nuno Santos, was not concerned. “Drawing the rail doesn’t matter, wire-to-wire”, Santos told Steve Haskin in BloodHorse a few days before the race. “Believe me, no worries. This horse is unreal, a freak, and everyone is going to see it on Saturday. 

“You’re going to see a Secretariat type of race. I can feel him getting stronger every day, and I’ve never been as confident in a horse as I am with this guy, and that includes Azeri. It’s another world. They’re going to have to wait years and years to see another one like this.” 

Frankel concurred. “If I don’t screw him up and he goes into the Breeders’ Cup as good as he is right now, he can’t lose”, he said. “It’ll be no contest; that’s all I’m telling you. That’s how good this horse is.” He told Steve Haskin.

Frankel was worried that Ghostzapper might get caught in an early speed duel with Roses in May. The Zapper would have jump on the break to keep from getting trapped on the rail. 

Roses in May was the only other horse in the race with the speed to challenge him early. If Roses in May pushed too hard too early, they might burn each other out setting things for a late closer. 

Jump he did once the gate opened as he set the pace with an opening 1/4 of 23.42, Roses In May clinging to Ghostzapper’s shadow. 

Azeri tried hard to catch them but at one mile he had faded to seventh eventually finishing fifth.

Roses In May continued to stick to Ghostzapper on the outside with Pleasantly Perfect rallying from 10th to third in the stretch. By then Ghostzapper had started to accelerate down the stretch drawing away to a three-length victory over Roses in May. 

The final time of 1:59.02 set a new track record and an unofficial Breeders’ Cup Classic record (because the race is run at different tracks, there is no official record).

Frank Stronach leads his champion to the winner’s circle. Photo courtesy of Cindy Pierson Dulay/Horse-Races.net

Frankel had a lifetime record of only two wins in 57 Breeders’ Cup starts. He had never won the Classic, though he did finish second with Bertrando in 1993 and with Medaglia d’Oro in 2002 and 2003. 

“This is as big a win as I’ve had in my career. In fact, it could be the biggest win I’ve had in my career. This is a good horse, a really good horse,” Frankel said.

Frank Stronach raises the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic trophy. Photo courtesy of Cindy Pierson Dulay/Horse-Races.net

Order of Finish

1.      Ghostzapper                        
2.      Roses In May
3.      Pleasantly Perfect              
4.      Perfect Drift                         
5.      Azeri           
6.      Personal Rush                    
7.      Birdstone    
8.      Dynever      
9.      Fantastical
10.    Funny Cide
11.    Bowman’s Band                
12.    Newfoundland                    
13.    Freefourinternet

In gratitude…

Many thanks for Frank Stronach for his giving his time to talk about Ghostzapper. Big thank you to Cindy Pierson Dulay of Horse-Races.net, Bill Denver of EQUI-PHOTO and Adam Coglianese (NYRA) for pulling and lending me the fabulous photos of Ghostzapper and Mr. Stronach. Thank you to Hill n’ Dale for the beautiful conformation photo of Ghostzapper and for continuing to stand him and believe in him. And, thanks to Ghostzapper who continues to intrigue and inspire me.

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