By Andrew Caulfield
The late great Bobby Frankel, with his five Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Trainer, landed many of America’s top races, but the Kentucky Derby was not among them. He had a couple of reasonably close calls for Juddmonte, with Aptitude running Fusaichi Pegasus to a length and a half in 2000 and Empire Maker being beaten a length and a quarter in 2003.
Perhaps the pressure-cooker world of the Triple Crown didn’t gel well with Frankel’s patient approach and his concern for his horses’ welfare. A fine example was his handling of Ghostzapper, so it was somewhat incongruous that Ghostzapper dominated the weekend’s early action on the Kentucky Derby front.
His son McCraken collected 10 points in the GIII Sam F. Davis S., to add to the 10 he earned in last year’s GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. His total of 20 points puts him level with El Areeb and Gormley, 12 points behind the clear leader Classic Empire. A day after McCraken’s victory, another of Ghostzapper’s 3-year-old sons, Iliad, was a clear-cut winner of the GII San Vicente S. With the San Vicente being contested over seven furlongs, it doesn’t carry Kentucky Derby points but the winning owner, Kaleem Shah, hopes that Iliad will progress to the GII San Felipe S. and GI Santa Anita Derby, which respectively carry 50 and 100 points.
Ghostzapper himself had been sufficiently precocious to make a spectacular debut at Hollywood Park in the November of his juvenile season, when he stormed home nine lengths clear. However, Ghostzapper disappointed next time and didn’t see action again until six month later. The 3-year-old wasn’t asked to tackle stakes company until the end of August and he finally became a stakes winner a month later, when he trounced the opposition in the GI Vosburgh S. Even so, he still wasn’t subjected to the fierce competition of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Needless to say, this patient approach reaped tremendous rewards in 2004, when the four-year-old Ghostzapper earned the Horse of the Year title with a perfect record of four wins from four starts. Having enjoyed Grade I success over 6 1/2 furlongs at three, Ghostzapper proved that he could carry his speed over longer distances, reaching a new peak when he made all to take the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic in a time of 1:59.02. Even though he made only one appearance at five, his victory in the GI Metropolitan H. was still good enough to secure him top weight of 128 among the older horses on the World Rankings.
Perhaps Frankel had been influenced by the record of Ghostzapper’s sire, the late-maturing Awesome Again. Unraced at two before showing smart form at three, Awesome Again then blossomed at four, when he too ended an unbeaten campaign with victory in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Bearing this in mind, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ghostzapper must have received substantial help from the bottom half of McCraken’s pedigree in siring this Grade II juvenile winner. In fact this supposition is well removed from the truth, which raises the excitingpossibility that McCraken could still be far from the finished article.
Here are the facts. McCraken’s dam Ivory Empress didn’t race at two and this versatile performer–a winner on dirt, turf and all-weather–was four before she earned black type. Her best efforts were over sprint distances, including her second place in the GIII Endine S. over six furlongs, but she also ran well at stakes level over 1 1/16 miles. Prior to McCraken she had produced Bondurant, a War Front colt who failed by only a neck to become a GIII winner in last year’s Commonwealth Turf S. over 1 1/16 miles.
Ivory Empress’ sire, Seeking the Gold, raced only once at two, when he won a maiden at Hialeah, but he thrived during a busy campaign at three, when he showed his appreciation of a mile and a quarter with a victory in the GI Super Derby and second-place finishes in the GI Travers S. (a nose defeat by Forty Niner) and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
McCraken’s second dam, Madame Pandit, was another who didn’t race at two and she didn’t become a stakes winner until the ages of four and five. Her best win came in the GIII Monrovia H. over 6 1/2 furlongs at five, when she was also second in the GI Santa Monica H. over seven. Her sire Wild Again was at his most successful as a 4-year-old, when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Madame Pandit passed on her talent to her Dance Brightly filly Mea Domina, a smart miler in California who numbered the GI Gamely H. among her Graded successes. Yet again this is a family member who didn’t race at two and gained her graded successes at four and five.
McCraken’s third dam, Tuesday Evening, was a winning sister to M. Double M., a stakes winner at four years. Their sire Nodouble was another who kept the best till last, taking the title of champion handicap horse at the ages of four and five, in 1969 and 1970. Nodouble played a significant role in this family’s success story. His partnership with McCraken’s fifth dam, General Store, resulted in Double Discount, a Grade II winner at up to a mile and a quarter, and the stakes-winning Chain Store. The latter was to find fame as the dam of the classic-winning Al Bahathri and second dam of the 2,000 Guineas winner Haafhd and the GI Yellow Ribbon S. winner Spanish Fern. When McCraken’s sixth dam, Generals Sister, visited Nodouble’s sire, Noholme, the outcome was the high-class French colt General Holme.
Plenty of the horses in these further reaches of McCraken’s family stayed a mile and a quarter but what are his own chances of doing so?
Ghostzapper now has 28 Graded stakes winners to his credit. It is encouraging that 12 of them–Arena Elvira, Go Maggie Go, Hunter’s Bay, Molly Morgan, Moreno, Mr Maybe, Mystical Star, Shaman Ghost, Stately Victor, Whiskey Ticket, Wine Princess and Za Approval –have won over a distance as long as a mile and an eighth, but only four of them–Hunter’s Bay, Mr Maybe, Mystical Star and Shaman Ghost–have scored over a mile and a quarter or more.
This suggests that McCracken is in with a chance of staying the Kentucky Derby distance. Also, the speed shown by his first two dams should be balanced by the fact that his sire and grandsire, together with the sires of his first two dams, all ran well in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.