Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
Ghostzapper was not exactly a workhorse.
He never raced more than four times in any of his four seasons.
Yet in the relatively brief time he spent on the racetrack, Ghostzapper had few – if any – peers.
In 2004, when he was named Horse of the Year, he was an undefeated graded stakes winner, versatile enough to win at seven furlongs, 1 1/8 miles, and 1 ¼ miles while registering blazing fast times in each of them.
“He handled any kind of racetrack, and you couldn’t take a race away from him,” Ghostzapper’s trainer, the late Bobby Frankel, said to the Associated Press at the time of the colt’s retirement in 2005. “If they wanted to go too fast, he could come from last. If they were going slow, he’d go right to the lead. How do you beat a horse like that?”
They didn’t. At least not that often. In 11 starts, he won nine times and earned $3,446,120 in a career that was rewarded in 2012 with a spot in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
A homebred son of Awesome Again, Ghostzapper raced under the banner of owner Frank Stronach’s Stronach Stables and made his career debut as a 2-year-old at Hollywood Park on Nov. 16, 2002, notching a nine-length victory at 11-1 odds for Frankel.
Sent off as a 3-10 favorite in his second start, an allowance race at Santa Anita Park on Dec. 26, Ghostzapper was squeezed back at the start and finished a disappointing fourth.
Given ample time to rest and develop, Ghostzapper returned at 3 just a few weeks after the Triple Crown ended with Funny Cide denied a sweep by Frankel’s Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes. He started his 3-year-old campaign with an impressive 3 1/4-length victory in a June 20 allowance race at Belmont Park.
A half-length victory in an allowance race at Saratoga followed, but then in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop Stakes, Ghostzapper dropped back to 10th in the field of 13 and had to rally six wide. The ground loss came back to haunt him as he wound up third, denied by a pair of heads from claiming his first stakes win.
Ghostzapper returned in September and tackled older horses in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes. In an indication of what was to come in 2004, he romped to a 6 ½-length triumph as the 3-1 second choice.
Minor foot injuries ended his season and prevented him from running in the Breeders’ Cup, but when he finally brushed those ailments aside and resumed racing in July of 2004, he was better than ever.
He started with a 4 ¼-length win in the Grade 2 Tom Fool Handicap, covering the seven furlongs in 1:20.42, only missing the track record by .46 seconds.
Though Ghostzapper seemed destined to be the year’s champion sprinter, Frankel had much bigger plans for him – namely the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Given his first chance at two turns, Ghostzapper responded with a monstrous 10 ¾-length victory in the Grade 3 Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park, falling short of a track record by .86 seconds with a final time of 1:47.66 for the mile and an eighth.
A hard-fought victory by a neck over Saint Liam (who would win the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Classic) in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes vaulted Ghostzapper to the top of the older male division.
Frankel, who passed away in 2009, targeted the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Lone Star Park next, and some wondered if the mile-and-a-quarter distance would be too demanding for a horse with such a brilliant turn of speed.
The field included 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect and both he and Ghostzapper were sent off as co-favorites at 5-2.
It turned out to be a mismatch.
Taking the lead at the start under jockey Javier Castellano, Ghostzapper cruised along on the front end and then pulled away in the stretch to win by three lengths over Roses in May, with Pleasantly Perfect another four lengths back in third.
“I told everyone, this was the best horse I ever trained,” Frankel said. “I know he had to go out and show it. In my heart, I always felt that way.”
The final time was 1:59.02, which still stands as a record for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Ghostzapper is a super horse,” said Dale Romans, who trained Roses in May. “He may be the best horse we've seen in a long time. We picked a bad year to have a top horse for the Classic.”
After securing just his third Breeders’ Cup win in 63 tries, Frankel was certain Ghostzapper had done enough to be named Horse of the Year, even though earlier in the year Smarty Jones had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing second in the Belmont Stakes.
Aside from winning all four of his 2004 races by a combined 18 ¼ lengths, Ghostzapper also notched amazingly quick Beyer Speed Figures of 120, 128, 114, and 124.
“Breeders' Cup day hasn't been a great day for me, but this time the dream came true. I think [Horse of the Year] is a no-brainer,” Frankel said. “[Ghostzapper] is very versatile. He can go six furlongs with the best of them, and he can come from 15 or 20 lengths out of it or win on the lead. He can win going long on the lead. He loves mud, and he doesn't have to take his racetrack with him.
“He's a dream horse, and possibly a super horse.”
When the Eclipse Awards were announced, the Hall of Fame trainer was proven correct as Ghostzapper was named Horse of the Year and the champion older male.
Frankel brought Ghostzapper back to the races at 5 and the son of Awesome Again romped by 6 1/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap in a final time of 1:33.29 for the mile.
Unfortunately, Ghostzapper suffered an ankle injury in the Met Mile and Stronach and Frankel decided to retire their champion.
“He went out the right way, in a good way,” Frankel told the Associated Press. “He did run that one good race this year, and if anything it gave him more respect.”
It was respect as one of the best horses of his era. Ghostzapper may not have had the longest career, but few put their time on the racetrack to use as brilliantly as he did.
Note: This story originally was published in September 2015 and has been updated.
- Awesome Again (1998) and Ghostzapper (2004) were the first sire and son to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Curlin (2007) and Vino Rosso (2019) duplicated that feat.
- The victory aboard Ghostzapper in the Classic was the first for jockey Javier Castellano in the Breeders’ Cup.
- Ghostzapper is the sire of more than 600 winners, of 48 graded stakes winners and 11 millionaires through Oct. 28, 2021, including Eclipse Award champion and Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Judy the Beauty and 2021 Dubai World Cup Presented by Emirates Airline winner Mystic Guide.