All the participants in the Apr. 6 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) will become ghost hunters this time and not make the same mistake they made in the San Felipe (gr. II) when most of the attention was on Flashback and Goldencents .
After watching Hear the Ghost appear from out of nowhere in the closing yards to snatch victory away from Flashback, you can bet the other jockeys will be well aware of the son of Ghostzapper 's whereabouts at all time.
Hear the Ghost, owned by Halo Farms and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, has made only three career starts, two of them at six furlongs. So, how could he have emerged as a serious Derby contender so quickly?
Well, he obviously had to do something extraordinary, and unleashing the same devastating late burst of speed at six furlongs and at 1 1/16 miles certainly was extraordinary. Often times, horses who are several lengths out of it inside the eighth pole in short sprint races and then turn on the afterburners in the closing yards are late-closing sprinters. When they stretch out to two turns, they find themselves closer to the pace and that explosion normally is not there.
But Hear the Ghost, facing the best 3-year-olds in California in a grade II stakes, actually ran the exact same race he did in the six-furlong San Pedro Stakes, kicking into another gear inside the sixteenth pole. Only this time he won, as he did in his career debut last December over Betfair Hollywood Park's Cushion Track.
Now he stretches out to 1 1/8 miles against mostly the same group he beat in the San Felipe. Flashback, who was the darling of the Southern California set before the San Felipe, now looks for redemption after hooking up in battle with Goldencents, who also is looking to get back to his winning ways. This time it is highly unlikely they will repeat their self destructive tendencies, at least if their jocks can help it. Now, they will have one eye on each other and the other eye on Hear the Ghost.
The big question regarding Hear the Ghost is, what exactly are we dealing with? Could it be he is a superstar waiting to bust out, and the others will be helpless in avoiding a repeat of the San Felipe? It is important to note that in his first two starts he finished first and second to arguably the two fastest 3-year-old sprinters in California, Let Em Shine and Distinctiv Passion, and in his 1 1/2-length defeat in the San Pedro, Distinctiv Passion went the six furlongs in 1:08 2/5, and he was four lengths off a sizzling :43 3/5 half.
"We thought we had a really nice horse when he closed the way he did in the San Pedro," Hollendorfer said. "In his first race he didn't show any signs in the morning that he'd run like that. He made big strides in the San Felipe and we hope he keeps improving in the Santa Anita Derby."
Hollendorfer is convinced Hear the Ghost does not need to wait until the final sixteenth to do his running.
"He can be a lot more tactical than he showed in his last race," he said. "I'm confident Corey (Nakatani) will adjust to any pace scenario. And there will be some pace.
"Corey has won two Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) for me, and we wanted to use him on some horses. We get along well with him and his agent."
Hollendorfer said he contacted Nakatani to work Hear the Ghost one morning, and he really liked the horse. This will be his second mount on the gelding. "He can ride anything," Hollendorfer said. "He always come through in the big races."
Hollendorfer doesn't like to plan too far ahead, and he approaches the Derby with a realistic attitude.
"My theory is that the horse has to take you there. You can't take them there," he said.
"This horse has matured a lot. He had been getting difficult to handle and I wanted to give him time to straighten himself out, but we finally decided to geld him. It's always a hard decision, but I don't know if he would have been as good as he is had we not gelded him.
"He's lightly raced, due to a little shin problem at 2 and a tiny splint on his right front, but he has a very professional attitude. Things don't bother him very much. We like to give them time to get over those little 2-year-old problems and he's rewarded us for our patience."
Hollendorfer said if things go right and Hear the Ghost comes out of the Santa Anita Derby in good shape, he probably won't ship to Churchill Downs until three to five days before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).