Ghostzapper at Adena Springs' Kentucky farm in the summer of 2013 (Photo courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog).
When Ghostzapper entered the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic, he had earned the “brilliant” label from many in the industry.
The son of Awesome Again had put up high speed figures throughout his career and had won seven previous races by a combined margin of more than 34 lengths. Ghostzapper had proven his dominance over the previous year, winning four in a row, including two Grade 1 races.
Ghostzapper was never in any danger in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Javier Castellano looking comfortable on the colt while setting the pace. When Castellano asked Ghostzapper to go, it didn’t take long for him to pull away from the rest of the field on his way to a new track record. The only horse within seven lengths of Ghostzapper was Roses in May, who finished three lengths behind the dazzling winner.
Owned and bred by Stronach Stables, Ghostzapper’s Classic win was even sweeter for Frank Stronach as he had also bred Ghostzapper’s sire, Awesome Again, who had won the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The win also made Awesome Again and Ghostzapper the only father/son tandem to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a feat that stands today.
"It's a no-brainer," trainer Bobby Frankel told the New York Times after the Classic. "He's handicap horse of the year and Horse of the Year. It's a simple vote right now. I think this is the best horse in the country by far, and they should give Horse of the Year to the best. I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind that he's the best horse in the country right now - by far."
Frankel’s words rang true in the ears of the Eclipse Award voters, and after an undefeated season Ghostzapper was named both Horse of the Year and champion older male.
Ghostzapper came back the following May for the Metropolitan Handicap. The race seemed like a walkover as Ghostzapper easily pulled away when Castellano asked him to accelerate, winning by 6 ¼ lengths. The Met Mile impressed many people more than his Breeders’ Cup win but in a sad twist of fate, it was his swan song.
It was found after the race that Ghostzapper had an injury that would force the horse to miss significant time on the track. As he was already 5 years old, the decision was made to retire him.
"I'm sorry he couldn't race through the end of the year and show the racing fans how great he really was, but it would take too long to heal and he is already a 5-year-old," Stronach told the Blood-Horse after the retirement was announced.
In the middle of a peak in the stallion marketplace, Ghostzapper stood his first season for $200,000. Like he did on the track, Ghostzapper set another record as the fee was the highest for any incoming freshman sire in North America in the new century.
The new stallion joined his sire at Stronach’s Adena Springs and soon became the star of the barn, a distinction he still owns today.
“Ghostzapper is by far, from our stallion roster, the most popular horse to the fans. He’s still very fresh in people’s minds, even though it’s been a little while now, but to be as dominant of a racehorse as he was and to run the speed numbers … he averaged above 120. It’s absolutely amazing when you compare those Beyer [Speed Figures] to horses this day and age who are still winning Grade 1s,” said Eric Hamelback, Adena Springs’ general manager. “So the fan base for him, I don’t see it slowing down. But now you move into his second career and how well he’s doing as a stallion, that just adds more fans, to be honest.”
From his first crop, Ghostzapper sired Canada’s 2012 champion older male Hunters Bay in addition to 12 other stakes winners from 64 starters with 83-percent of those starters winning at least one race.
Since then, Ghostzapper has proven to be a quality sire with Grade 1 winners on both turf and dirt, with his crops knocking it out of the park in 2012 and 2013. In all, he has produced 19 graded stakes winners in five crops of racing age with 189 winners through Sept. 24. In 2010, Ghostzapper ranked fourth on the Blood-Horse second-crop sire list. He followed that up with a third on the third-crop sires list the next year.
Adena Springs has seen his popularity spike again in the past two seasons.
“[His popularity has increased] ten-fold … his stud fee dropped due to the market fluctuation, and subsequently because of the market drop, negativism on him not being a fresh, right-out-of-the-gate popular stallion, but there was a core group of breeders that stayed with him and everyone always had a trust and a faith that such a good racehorse was going to pass it on,” Hamelback said.
“Now [he is] compared statistically to horses like our own El Prado, certainly Kitten’s Joy of current time. You’re looking at numbers that are comparing to A.P. Indy in number of stakes winners and percentages, and it has caught everybody’s eye. We certainly had no problems getting mares to him this year. Even with increases in stud fee ,people were very acceptant of that both in the sales ring and the racetrack.”
As someone who has spent time around Ghostzapper’s dam, Baby Zip, Hamelback sees a lot of the mare’s traits in her son. While Awesome Again is more laid back with hardly a care in the world, Ghostzapper has his dam’s attitude. However, Ghostzapper seems to turn into a different horse when there are children around.
“He’s a neat horse in that he always seems to be calmly affected by children. It’s an odd scenario but from a personal standpoint, my children come in here and they’ll put their hands against the stall door and he’ll sit there and he’ll nuzzle against [the stall door]. He’ll literally stick his tongue out and let you play with it, but he’s a bit more aggressive,” he said.
GHOSTZAPPER THROUGH THE YEARS
Ghostzapper’s homebred status at Adena Springs is one of the things that makes him so special, but so is his help in giving the farm the title “Decade’s Leading Breeder.”
“He was truly somewhat of a regeneration, the day that we won two Breeders’ Cup races in one day with Perfect String and Macho Uno and then we had Red Bullet in 2000 then to have him four years later, that has brought everybody back up to the forefront,” Hamelback said.
“Now his success as a stallion, I mean it just continually keeps us out there. To have that term right now as the ‘Decade’s Leading Breeder’ for the Stronachs, it’s amazing, absolutely an amazing feat that they have accomplished. But to have two such breed-affecting stallions with Awesome Again and Ghostzapper, the popularity of the farm and having that to grasp as a homebred is an amazing feeling.”
Ghostzapper’s accomplishments on the track were rewarded in 2012 when he was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Adena Springs moved from Versailles, Ky., to a bigger farm in Paris, Ky. where Ghostzapper and the farm’s six other Kentucky-based stallions, including his sire, reside.