Stronghold Captures Imagination In Santa Anita Derby

Stronghold | Coady


Sent off as the 11-5 second choice, Rick and Sharon Waller's Stronghold (Ghostzapper) outbattled even-money favorite Imagination (Into Mischief) through the final eighth of a mile to take Saturday's GI Santa Anita Derby, earning 100 points towards the GI Kentucky Derby.

The last-out winner of the GIII Sunland Derby, the homebred was beaten for speed and settled just off the pace in fourth as Tapalo (Tapiture) set the pace from Imagination and E J Won the Cup (Omaha Beach). Content to allow those up front to do the dirty work as they went a good gallop, Stronghold was held together on the turn by Antonio Fresu, who went for his mount in earnest at the quarter pole and split horses in upper stretch. As E J Won the Cup and Tapalo began to back out of it, Imagination and Stronghold were left to settle it, and though neither gave an inch, Stronghold surged by in the shadow of the wire.

“We thought we needed a top three performance to get to the Kentucky Derby,” winning trainer Phil D'Amato said. “We were definitely hoping to get on the winning end here. I think this was a great education for him, and a nice test that he's going to need to win a race like the Kentucky Derby.”

The win was the first at Grade I level in America for Antonio Fresu.

“I loved the way Phil D'Amato was training him the last couple of works,” the Italian said. “The horse was getting so much confidence and he was getting so much better than before. Today he proved to be a very good horse. Still, when he hit the front, he didn't want to stay alone, he was waiting for some company. He got the job done and I want to dedicate this to my friend that passed away. I felt like he was there with me today. Stefano Cherchi was an amazing guy and I want to dedicate this to him.”

A maiden winner at second asking going Churchill's one-turn mile Oct. 1, Stronghold was a distant runner-up to 'TDN Rising Star' Nysos (Nyquist) in the GIII Bob Hope S. at Del Mar Nov. 19 before just getting reeled in late by Wynstock (Solomini) in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 16. Sent to the Land of Enchantment for his sophomore debut, Stronghold proved too strong for his rivals at Sunland Park, taking that track's repositioned Derby by 2 1/2 widening lengths Feb. 18.

Pedigree Notes:

Hill 'n' Dale's Ghostzapper, the veteran son of Awesome Again out of Broodmare of the Year Baby Zip, may be among the elder statesmen in Kentucky's sire ranks, but he still cranks out top horses, among them 55 graded winners and 100 black-type winners worldwide. While Stronghold marks his only stakes winner of 2024 to date, Ghostzapper's other best runners most recently have included 2022-23 Eclipse champion female sprinter Goodnight Olive, 2022 Canadian Horse of the Year Moira, 2021 G1 Dubai World Cup winner Mystic Guide, and triple Grade I winner Guarana. No fewer than nine of Ghostzapper's stakes winners are out of Distorted Humor mares, with GISWs Guarana and Molly Morgan, as well as 2023 GSWs Rhyme Schemes and Two Ghosts, all bred on the same cross as Stronghold, who is the first stakes winner for Distorted Humor's son Jimmy Creed as a broodmare sire. Jimmy Creed stands at Spendthrift.

Stronghold is a fourth-generation homebred for the Waller family. Eric and Sharon Waller lost his dam, Spectator, after she foaled Stronghold–her only produce–in 2021. They had sold her dam, the unraced Diva's Tribute, to Richard Barton Enterprises in 2015 at Keeneland November for just $4,700. After Spectator won the 2017 GII Sorrento S. and placed twice in Grade Is, Diva's Tribute went through Keeneland's ring again in 2022 and hammered for $175,000 to Calvin Nguyen. She produced a Maxfield filly last year for Nguyen and partner Joey Tran before being bred to Idol for 2024. –Jill Williams


Saturday, Santa Anita
SANTA ANITA DERBY-GI, $751,500, Santa Anita, 4-6, 3yo, 1 1/8m, 1:49.98, ft.
1–STRONGHOLD, 124, 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
1ST GRADE I WIN. O/B-Eric & Sharon Waller (KY); T-Philip
D'Amato; J-Antonio Fresu. $450,000. Lifetime Record: 6-3-3-0,
$827,200. Werk Nick Rating: A+++. *Triple Plus*
Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
Click for the free catalogue-style pedigree.
2–Imagination, 124, c, 3, Into Mischief–Magical Feeling,
by Empire Maker. 1ST G1 BLACK TYPE. ($1,050,000 Ylg '22
KEESEP). O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables
LLC, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Dianne Bashor, Robert E.
Masterson, Waves Edge Capital LLC, Catherine Donovan and
Tom J. Ryan; B-Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds, LLC (KY); T-Bob
Baffert. $150,000.
3–E J Won the Cup, 124, c, 3, Omaha Beach–Firsthand Report,
BLACK TYPE. ($150,000 Wlg '21 KEENOV; $95,000 Ylg '22
KEESEP). O-Superfecta King Stable (Margolis); B-Hoolie Racing
Stable, LLC (KY); T-Doug F. O'Neill. $90,000.
Margins: NK, 3 1/4, 4HF. Odds: 2.20, 1.00, 23.40.
Also Ran: Curlin's Kaos, Tapalo, Wynstock, Mc Vay, Tessuto.
Click for the chart and the PPs. VIDEO, sponsored by FanDuel TV.

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