Shaman Ghost, trainer Jimmy Jerkens, and jockey Javier Castellano swept into Arcadia, Calif., on March 11 and swept up the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap.
The 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper, owned by Frank Stronach’s Stronach Stables, stalked early leader Midnight Storm in the backstretch of the 1 1/4-mile test, began his move midway through the final turn, angled out at the top of the stretch, and just outfinished the frontrunner to win by three-quarters of a length at the wire.
It was the second Grade 1 win for the East Coast-based horse, who also took last year's Woodward Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
"He was in a nice spot the whole way, and then when the leader kicked away a little on the turn, for a second it looked like he was getting a little discouraged," Jerkens said. "Javier was able to head him to the outside, out of the dirt, and I felt good right before they turned home. I felt like, 'May the best horse win.'"
Midnight Storm set fractions of :23.54, :47.52, and 1:11.76 through six furlongs, and still held a clear advantage after a mile in 1:36.18, but Shaman Ghost proved best in the stretch and hit the wire in 2:01.57 at Santa Anita Park, which is owned by the Stronach Group.
"I knew there wasn't a lot of speed in the race, so I just wanted to focus on the horse on the lead, Midnight Storm, and keep track of him," Castellano said. "[Shaman Ghost] was comfortable the whole way. ... I knew I had it won at the eighth pole. I asked him for full speed at the eighth pole and he gave it to me right away."
It was the third Big 'Cap win for Frank Stronach, as Milwaukee Brew won the race in 2002-03.
"Of course any time you win a grade 1 it is a thrill, especially this race," Stronach said. "I was kind of sitting there quiet [watching the race]. He's had a lot of racing luck and he's better than what he has shown. Today it all worked out."
Shaman Ghost now has a 7-2-2 record from 15 starts, with more than $3.5 million in earnings. In his start before the Big 'Cap, Shaman Ghost finished second to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park.
"He's been showing up in all his races," Jerkens said. "So I think he should get some [respect] now."
Picking up the pieces in third came Follow Me Crev, who closed from eighth to earn the show spot, followed by Hi Happy, Isotherm, Hard Aces, Twentytwentyvision, Gangster, and Imperative.