Trainer Jimmy Jerkens has Shaman Ghost on a nice roll.
The 2015 Queen’s Plate champion earned a three-quarters-of-a length win Saturday in the US$750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, a 1 1/4-mile Grade 1 race. The $450,000 winner’s share boosted the five-year-old’s 2017 earnings to a whopping $2.2 million already and marked a fourth straight top-three finish in as many Grade 1 events.
“He was always a good horse,” Jerkens said in a telephone interview. “You can’t do what he did as a three-year-old without being one . . . only classy horses do that.
“It’s nothing that he didn’t already have, that’s for sure.”
Shaman Ghost was Canada’s champion three-year-old in 2015 after winning the Plate and finishing second in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, for trainer Brian Lynch. Once the Canadian stretch of Shaman Ghost’s racing career was completed, Lynch passed the baton to Jerkens, whose mandate became winning high-profile American events to boost the horse’s stallion potential for owner Stronach Stables.
But Jerkens had to wait for the Canadian-bred son of Ghostzapper, who required ankle surgery following the Prince of Wales. Shortly after returning to the track Shaman Ghost began experiencing soreness and also developed colic, a painful, potentially serious gastrointestinal condition that can require surgery.
Fortunately, Shaman Ghost avoided surgery and in May 2016 ran third in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race in his debut under Jerkens. Shaman Ghost followed up with a promising win in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile event at Belmont Park on June 11.
But a month later, the horse was fifth in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap over 1 1/4 miles at Belmont. It stands as his worst effort in seven races under Jerkens (three wins, one second and two thirds in other competitions).
Overall, Shaman Ghost has won seven-of-15 career starts (with two seconds and two thirds) and earned over $3.5 million.
“It (Suburban) just looked like a good spot to win a graded stakes with him, that’s why we went for it,” Jerkens said. “He was coming back kind of close from a race over a mile and a half and the Brooklyn was only his second race back.
“He came down with a little bit of a cough in between and got over it quick . . . but just wasn’t quite at his best at the Suburban.”
However, Shaman Ghost has been money ever since.
He’s won two Grade 1 events (Santa Anita Handicap as well as the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 3) and was third in the Clark Handicap on Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs. But arguably the horse’s most impressive feat was a second-place finish to Arrogate on Jan. 28 in the inaugural $12-million Pegasus World Cup, the richest thoroughbred race ever.
Arrogate, the 7-5 second choice, secured an emphatic 4 3/4-length win but a determined Shaman Ghost â€” overlooked at 20-1 â€” was a surprising second to earn the $1.75 million runner-up prize.
Arrogate and California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion, were the race headliners coming in.
“He kept on coming against a lot of nice horses,” Jerkens said. “They saw Arrogate out their galloping along and they couldn’t make any headway and threw in the towel and he kept it up.
“I thought outside of Arrogate and California Chrome, I didn’t think you could really separate the rest of the field. That’s why we decided to run him.”
Running in four straight Grade 1 races is asking a lot of a horse because those events traditionally attract the stiffest competition. However, Jerkens said he’ll be the first to know if Shaman Ghost shows signs of tiring or wearing down.
“If you’ve got the horse and want to try to make him into a stallion you’ve got to go for the gusto,” he said. “You’ve got to make demands of them.
“If you’re with him long enough you know when you can and when you can’t.”
Case in point was last year’s Breeder’ Cup when Jerkens scratched Shaman Ghost from the Classic on race day because the horse wasn’t right.
“The last couple of days he went completely off his feed, was acting really listless and had a slight temperature,” Jerkens said.
As for what’s next for Shaman Ghost, Jerkens admits he’s unsure.
“We’ve kind of just been taking it one race at a time,” he said. “We haven’t really mapped out something that says, ‘This is where we’re going.’
“We’ll sit down, we’ll talk and figure out what’s next.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press