Stronach Stables’ Shaman Ghost and jockey Javier Castellano win the Grade I $ 750,000 Santa Anita Handicap
Boasting a resume that already includes some of the most prestigious races in the world, Stronach Stable’s Shaman Ghost will be favored to add one more in Friday’s $ 300,000 Xpressbet Pimlico Special at historic Pimlico Race Course.
The 47th running of the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special for 3-year-olds attracted a solid field of 10 as one of seven stakes, four graded, worth $ 1.15 million in purses on a 14-race Black-Eyed Susan Day program that includes the return of the Ultimate Girls Day Out, an entire afternoon dedicated to the spirit and strength of women. First race post time is 11:30 a.m.
Shaman Ghost enters the Pimlico Special off a three-quarter-length victory in the 1 ¼-mile Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 11, his second start of the year. He opened his 5-year-old campaign finishing a decisive second to champion Arrogate in the $ 12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens was particularly impressed with Shaman Ghost’s performance in California, given that he didn’t feel the bay son of Ghostzapper was enamored by Santa Anita’s main track.
“He ran good, and I didn’t really think he cared for it, either,” he said. “The track was kind of hard for him and I don’t think he was crazy about the track. It just shows his gameness.”
After the race Jerkens kept Shaman Ghost in a holding pattern until he and Frank Stronach, also Pimlico’s owner, determined where to run next. Shaman Ghost has worked six times following his return from California, five since leaving South Florida for New York.
“He came out of the last race good. We were kind of idling along and not knowing when his next start was going to be. Luckily I kept him kind of going, and we didn’t stop on him or anything like that,” Jerkens said. “I kept him breezing a little bit in case something popped up. Mr. Stronach decided he wanted to run at Pimlico. He’s been running every couple months and it’s kind of been working out so he wanted to stick to that. It was fine with me.”
Shaman Ghost raced only five times last year, winning the Brooklyn (G2) and Woodward (G1), where he Mubtaahij and Frosted were each separated by a head. As a sophomore he won the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby (G1), and was second by a neck in the second leg of its Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales, before ankle surgery ended his season. Still, he was voted the Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion 3-year-old colt.
“Knock on wood, everything’s good,” Jerkens said. “The mile and three-sixteenths shouldn’t be a big deal for him. He’s won going a mile and a half, he’s won going a mile and a quarter and he’s won going a mile and an eighth. I don’t see how a mile and three-sixteenths is that big a difference.”
Jerkens also entered Dede McGehee’s Dolphus, a 4-year-old half-brother to Hall of Fame mare and 2009 Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra. The son of 2010 Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky joined Jerkens after finishing last of nine in the Hal’s Hope (G3) Jan. 14 at Gulfstream and was fourth by 1 ½ lengths in the Stymie March 12 before a front-running allowance win going a mile April 23, both at Aqueduct.
“He won a two-other-than and then they ran him in [the Hal’s Hope] and he broke bad and rushed up and went too fast and stopped real bad. Then the lady sent him to me,” Jerkens said. “He ran very well in the Stymie, then he won the three-other-than going a mile out of the chute. We didn’t know where else to run him. Without any conditions it’s kind of tough to find a spot after that, so we thought he might lay up close and maybe get brave on the lead and get something.”
Hall of Famer-elect Javier Castellano will ride Shaman Ghost from Post 6 at highweight of 124 pounds. Rajiv Maragh has the call on Dolphus from Post 1 at 118.
John Oxley’s Grade 1 winner Noble Bird is entered to defend his title in the Pimlico Special, where he led all the way in an 11 ¼-length romp under Julien Leparoux. The 6-year-old son of 2004 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Birdstone is winless in four starts since taking the Fayette (G2) last fall at Keeneland.
Noble Bird is trained by Canadian Hall of Famer Mark Casse, who has 2016 juvenile champion Classic Empire set to go in the 142nd Preakness Stakes (G1) Saturday off a troubled fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
On the day before he runs Illinois Derby (G3) winner Multiplier in the Preakness, Kentucky-based trainer Brendan Walsh will send out Conquest Windycity for the Pimlico Special. A son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner and Hall of Famer Tiznow, Conquest Windycity won a 1 1/16-mile second-level allowance at Keeneland by 4 ½ lengths in his prior start, his second of the year.
“His last run was very good,” Walsh said. “He ran a huge number. We think highly of him and we’re going to go there and take a shot. It seems like he’s training really well at the moment and doing really well. When they’re like that, you’ve got to take a shot.”
Godolphin Racing’s Watershed became a graded stakes winner in his most recent effort, a 2 ¾-length score in the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali (G3) April 15 at Keeneland. The victory came one start after a failed turf experiment where the 5-year-old son of 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini got bottled up in traffic and ran ninth, beaten two lengths, in the Mac Diarmida (G2) at Gulfstream.
Watershed’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, won the 2006 Pimlico Special with eventual Horse of the Year and 2013 Hall of Famer Invasor.
“We wanted to try the turf because he had never tried the turf out of an all-turf female family. He ran very well but we felt like his dirt races were better, so we went back to the dirt,” McLaughlin said. “He was willing last time and we were very happy with the race he ran. But, this one is going to be a little tougher with Shaman Ghost. We’re happy. He looks good and he’s doing well so we’re pointing that way.”
Trainer Neil Howard, trainer of 2003 Pimlico Special winner Mineshaft, returns with W.S. Farish’s Eagle, second to Watershed in defense of his 2016 Ben Ali victory, his best finish from three starts this year.
Rounding out the field are multiple stakes winners Bodhisattva, most recently fourth in the Charles Town Classic (G2) April 22, and Fellowship, an impressive allowance winner April 16 at Laurel in his first start in 11 months; Name Changer, a winner of two straight but unraced since the Richard W. Small Nov. 19 at Laurel Park; and Trin-Brook Stables’ Discreet Lover, a front-running allowance winner April 29 at Parx.
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