Ghostzapper's Stronghold Invades Sunland Derby And Takes Home 20 Derby Points

Stronghold | Coady Photography

Eric and Sharon Waller's homebred Stronghold (Ghostzapper) shipped from trainer Phil D'Amato's Southern California base to Sunland Park in New Mexico and will return home with 20 additional qualifying points to the GI Kentucky Derby after his two-length victory in the GIII Sunland Park Derby Sunday.

Second behind Nysos (Nyquist) in the Nov. 19 GIII Bob Hope S., Stronghold earned five Derby points when he was last seen finishing second in his two-turn debut in the Dec. 16 GII Los Alamitos Futurity. Sent off the 6-5 favorite in his sophomore debut Sunday, the bay colt shared pacesetting duties with 3-1 second choice Lucky Jeremy (Lookin at Lucky) through fractions of :23.69 and :47.45, as longshot Alotaluck (Sir Prancealot {Ire}) shadowed the top two while racing three wide. Stronghold began asserting control approaching the stretch as the three-quarters went up in 1:11.32. The favorite drifted out into the lane, allowing Lucky Jeremy and Alotaluck a chance to come back on him, but jockey Antonio Fresu straightened him out and he surged clear to the wire. Alotaluck just edged Lucky Jeremy for second. The final time for the Sunland Derby, which was shortened to 1 1/16 miles this year and run five weeks earlier than its traditional slot, was 1:42.64.

“It was a really great ride by Antonio and he got the job done,” said winning trainer Phil D'Amato. “I liked where we were sitting right there on the outside stalking. This horse likes that spot. The six [Alotaluck] put a little pressure on us at the half-mile pole, but Stronghold was able to find another gear there and once he shook loose at the top of the lane, I thought we had a great chance.”

Asked about the colt's drifting trip at the top of the lane, D'Amato said, “It's only his second race long. I think he's a horse who is still learning, but this race should hopefully do him a world of good.”

Stronghold opened his career with a runner-up effort going six furlongs at Ellis Park in August and graduated going one mile at Churchill Downs Oct. 1. Finishing third in the maiden race that day was Track Phantom (Quality Road), second in Saturday's GII Risen Star S., while the runner-up that day, Resilience (Into Mischief), was fourth in the Risen Star.

Stronghold cut back to seven furlongs for the Bob Hope and found only the impressive Nysos too good that day. He missed by just a half-length when second in the 1 1/16-miles Los Al Futurity Dec. 16.

Looking ahead for the improving colt, D'Amato said, “Probably one prep that we have not determined yet. And hopefully that prep will lead us to the Kentucky Derby.”


Pedigree Notes:

Stronghold is the only foal out of another Waller homebred, Spectator, who won the 2017 GII Sorrento S. and was second in the 2018 GI Santa Anita Oaks and third in the 2017 GI Del Mar Debutante for the couple and D'Amato. The mare died in 2021.

The Wallers also bred Stronghold's second and third dams: the unraced Diva's Tribute–who sold as a 5-year-old for $4,700 at the 2015 Keeneland November sale and again for $175,000 to Calvin Nguyen at that sale in 2022–and her dam, stakes-winner and graded-placed Swiss Diva.

Diva's Tribute produced a filly by Improbable in 2022 and a filly by Maxfield last year. She was bred back to Nguyen's Grade I winner Idol in 2023.

Stronghold is the 55th graded stakes winner for his sire, Ghostzapper, and he is the first stakes winner as a broodmare sire for Jimmy Creed (Distorted Humor). Ghostzapper's graded winners out of daughters of Distorted Humor include Guarana, Molly Morgan and last year's GII Saratoga Special winner Rhyme Schemes.

Sunday, Sunland
SUNLAND PARK DERBY-GIII, $400,000, Sunland, 2-18, 3yo, 1 1/16m, 1:42.64, ft.
1–STRONGHOLD, 122, c, 3, by Ghostzapper
                1st Dam: Spectator (GSW & MGISP, $323,551),
                                by Jimmy Creed
                2nd Dam: Diva's Tribute, by Henny Hughes
                3rd Dam: Swiss Diva, by Swiss Yodeler
Sharon Waller (KY); T-Philip D'Amato; J-Antonio Fresu.
$232,800. Lifetime Record: 5-2-3-0, $377,200. Werk Nick
Rating: A+++. *Triple Plus*
Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
Click for the free catalogue-style pedigree.
2–Alotaluck, 122, g, 3, Sir Prancealot (Ire)–Colinda Dawn, by
Lucks Mine. 1ST GRADED BLACK TYPE. O/B-Eleanor Martin
(CA); T-Ty J. Garrett. $85,360.
3–Lucky Jeremy, 122, c, 3, Lookin At Lucky–Powder N Blush, by
War Chant. 1ST GRADED BLACK TYPE. ($14,000 Ylg '22
KEEJAN; $50,000 2yo '23 OBSOPN). O-Jeremy Ramsland;
B-Craig L. Minten (KY); T-William E. Morey. $38,800.
Margins: 2HF, HD, 6. Odds: 1.20, 14.00, 3.40.
Also Ran: Curlin's Kaos, Informed Patriot, Da Ringo, No Trouble, Surroundedbyangels.
Click for the chart and the PPs. VIDEO, sponsored by FanDuel TV.

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