Frank Stronach has a knack for finding four-leaf clovers, at the races and in his various walks of life that includes being a premier owner of racetracks and racehorses.
He was delighted to see a four-leaf clover at his feet prior to the 2015 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, and his colt Shaman Ghost came through with a sharp victory in the Canadian classic. Stronach had also found one just before his colt Touch Gold spoiled Silver Charm’s Triple Crown bid in the 1997 Belmont Stakes.
Stronach will no doubt have a lot of things on his plate on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park when his vision to create the world’s richest race comes to life, but if any lucky greenery lurks between the cracks in the track’s grassless paddock, there is every chance that Stronach will be there to spot it before Shaman Ghost lines up for the $12-million Pegasus World Cup.
The homebred certainly has good timing, emerging just as plans for the new race were taking shape as perhaps the best dirt male that Stronach Stables has campaigned since the colt’s sire, Ghostzapper. Shaman Ghost emulated his Hall of Fame father by capturing the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 3. He also shares a key credential with his grandsire, Awesome Again, who carried the black-and-red Stronach colors to victory in the Queen’s Plate in 1998.
“This horse is special to us with his breeding,” Stronach said. “Ghostzapper and Awesome Again were both great horses. This one has had some tough luck but he has been able to win some nice races.
“I’ve always said a very good horse will only lose when it’s got tough luck. A horse that isn’t quite as good will only win when it has got good luck. You just don’t know. There could be a particular day a top horse isn’t quite at their best. Who knows, they could have been cast in their stall but they got up and no one saw it … it could be a million things. When you have been in horse racing as long as I have been, you understand there is never a sure thing.”
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens, likewise, is well aware that California Chrome and Arrogate are the clear standouts for the Pegasus World Cup, but he can quickly rattle off a number of “what if” scenarios that embolden him with Shaman Ghost. Plus, third- or fourth-place money in a $12-million race is nothing to take lightly.
“I feel pretty good about it,” said Jerkens, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, the legendary “Giant Killer” himself. “Those two are in a league by themselves; it looks like and they’re going to really have to go backward and we’re going to have to go forward. They have to have a lot of bad luck and we have to have some good luck. You never know, they might get bad posts or get in trouble and jocks will be riding to beat them.
“I feel a lot better knowing [Shaman Ghost] has been able to train up to top efforts before, like in the Woodward. A lot of horses, no matter how hard you try, they are just not at their best unless they have a good prep under their belt. Other than California Chrome, Keen Ice really is the only one coming in off a big prep, everyone else is pretty much coming in after a couple months off."
After the breakthrough in the Woodward, Shaman Ghost was earmarked for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park, but he came down with a temperature the night before the race and was scratched. He bounced back quickly enough to tackle the Grade 1 Clark Handicap later that month at Churchill Downs and finished third, beaten by 6 1/4 lengths by Gun Runner.
“That wasn’t bad,” Jerkens said. “He put in a big, sustained run while he was kind of wide. The track was pretty speed-favoring, so I thought it was better than it looks on paper … not one of his best ones, but it wasn’t bad. He has done well since we’ve got him down to Florida.
“He trains like a good horse. He is a little feisty in the stall like any colt but once he is out there on the track he is honest.”
For the first edition of the Pegasus World Cup, Stronach was willing to go forward owning more than one of the 12 starting positions, given the hefty price tag of $1 million each that directly fuels the purse. Instead, demand from other horseman was strong enough that he wound up with just the one slot and Shaman Ghost was soon on his way to stamping himself as a legitimate candidate as the “house horse.”
“Overall, I think [the Pegasus World Cup] has been well received, with a positive response,” Stronach said. “The one thing I wanted to make sure was to not conflict with the Breeders’ Cup or the Dubai World Cup. But I wanted to bring attention to what we could do in racing on a worldwide basis. I think we will see where the purse is maybe $20 million or $30 million. It should be feasible, right?
“We’ve got to get racing on a different level to get the mainstream attention because [an event] is that interesting. Horses have made such a great contribution to my life and to mankind and I want to promote the sport. If we put our heads together, I do think we can build a greater fan base, not just from a gambling perspective but as a sport, for families and sports fans, too.”