Shaman Ghost makes shorter trip to Big 'Cap and hopes for big money

Shaman Ghost makes shorter trip to Big 'Cap and hopes for big money
Shaman Ghost works out on Jan. 26 ahead of the $12-million Pegasus World Cup in Hallandale, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

Life is a series of choices, some easier than others.

For example, do you ship your 1,000-pound animal 2,340 miles across the country where you could earn $450,000 for winning a race or do you ship him 7,800 miles where you would win $2 million by just finishing second?


Do the math. If you win Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, that's $192 for every mile you endure. If you finish second in the $10-million Dubai World Cup later in the month, it's $256 a mile.

Easy choice for trainer Jim Jerkens. He's in Arcadia.

"I just personally wasn't crazy about it and neither was Mr. Stronach," Jerkens said about where to run Shaman Ghost, owned by Frank Stronach. "It's a big undertaking. I know money is money and it's no piece of cake shipping here to California.

"But I like to have more control of my horse than sticking him on a plane and joining him a week later. That's not my style, I want to be with him every second I can."

Saturday will be the 80th running of the Santa Anita Handicap, the longest running hundred-grand race in the country. It caps a major 11-race program that also includes:

-- A big 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Derby prep race, the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes. It features undefeated Mastery, running for Bob Baffert; Gormley, whose connections are John Shirreffs and owner Jerry Moss of Zenyatta and Giacamo fame, and Iliad, who runs for defending Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill.

-- The $400,000 Triple Bend, a seven-furlong race with a 7-year-old favorite in Masochistic.

-- And the $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, in which former Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund will make his turf debut for new trainer Art Sherman.

Jerkens, who has stables in Florida and New York, is making his second appearance in the race affectionately known as the Big 'Cap. Last year, he sent Effinex to Santa Anita, but a case of hives compromised the horse's chances and he finished third.

Shaman Ghost has quietly emerged as one of the better older horses in the country. The silence was definitely broken when he finished second to Arrogate in the $12-million Pegasus World Cup in January at Gulfstream. Arrogate is headed to Dubai, which is why most people view second place as the best another horse can finish.

Shaman Ghost has won six of 14 races, including the Queen's Plate, the first leg of the Canadian triple crown, as a 3-year-old, the Grade 2 Brooklyn and the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes last year as a 4-year-old. He has won a little more than $3 million.

"No one seems to give our horses any credit," Jerkens said. "They seem to think when our horse wins a race, it's fluky, like the Woodward. He ran a terrific race in the Woodward. Everyone said what a bad trip Frosted had. Well, we didn't have the greatest trip in the world either."

Aboard Shaman Ghost that day was Javier Castellano, the four- time Eclipse Award winning jockey. It was his first time on the horse. He also rode him to a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Castellano will be making his first Big 'Cap ride Saturday.


"Javier really loves the horse," said Mike Lakow, Castellano's agent and former racing director at Santa Anita. "And it's really good to be riding a son of Ghostzapper, one of the best horses he ever rode.

"Whenever Javier can ride a top horse for great connections and run in a race as prestigious as the Santa Anita Handicap, he's very excited to do that."

Castellano, who rode in the last race at Gulfstream and then barely made his flight to Los Angeles, has six other mounts Saturday.

Despite his success, Shaman Ghost will not be the favorite in Saturday's race. Midnight Storm, winner of five of his last six races and all graded stakes, is the 8-5 favorite. Shaman Ghost is listed at 2-1.

Midnight Storm, running for Phil D'Amato and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, has a front-running style in a race with no apparent early speed. It could easily allow him to run soft fractions which would seem to suit a horse that usually doesn't run in 1¼-mile races.

"We just need someone to keep the horse up front busy, but looking at the Form, it doesn't look like there is anybody," Jerkens said.

Shaman Ghost is fast out of the gate but then usually settles in the middle of pack before mounting furious and fearless stretch runs.

"He's a horse that will take dirt in his face," Jerkens said. "But you have to ride him hard. He won't do stuff on his own, but you give him the cue and he'll go. He doesn't mind going between horses. He doesn't mind being stuck on the inside. He'll deal with it and then when you get him in the clear he appreciates it."

Jerkens calls his horse a grinder.

"That's why he's gotten a lot of checks and every once in a while he'll get the win," Jerkens said. "They are never easy wins. They are blue-collar wins."

Stronach, who owns Santa Anita, Gulfstream, a few other tracks and Shaman Ghost, is expected to be in attendance Saturday.

The horse won't know, but the trainer does.

"Whether they are in the stands or watching somewhere else, there's not a real big difference," Jerkens said. "But knowing they are watching anywhere adds a little pressure."

Follow John Cherwa on Twitter @jcherwa