Reigning Horse of the Year Ghostzapper made a triumphant return to the races Monday, cruising to the lead entering the turn and easily winning the $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Although he needed a few extra minutes to be loaded into the gate for his first start in seven months, once the race began Ghostzapper ran like a champion.
Ridden by Javier Castellano for trainer Bobby Frankel, the 5-year-old son of Awesome Again
was third behind Love of Money and Forest Danger early. When the field hit the turn, Ghostzapper moved between horses and took command at the top of the stretch and won by 6 1/4 lengths over longshot Silver Wagon.
The victory extended Ghostzapper's win streak to six in a row over three years, with his ninth victory in 11 career starts. Now 5-for-5 at Belmont, Ghostzapper earned $450,000 and boosted his bankroll to $3,446,120 for owner-breeder Frank Stronach.
With the victory, Ghostzapper became just the fifth reigning Horse of the Year in 20 years to return to the races for a 5-year-old season. The others were Cigar, Ferdinand, and two fillies -- Azeri and Lady's Secret. Only Cigar went on to repeat as Horse of the Year.
Ghostzapper's seasonal debut was delayed a month after the horse developed a sinus problem before the Oaklawn Handicap.
The winning time for the race, also known as the Met Mile, was 1:33.29, just off the stakes record of 1:32.80 set by Honour and Glory
in 1996. Ghostzapper paid $3.30, $2.50, and $2.10. Silver Wagon returned $9.90 and $2.60, and Sir Shackleton paid $2.50 to show.
Pomeroy was fourth, followed by Forest Danger and Love of Money.
"I know you dream of winning the Kentucky Derby, but the best dream is to know you have the best horse," Frankel said. "I'm very emotional right now. He's a great horse, let's just put it that way," Frankel said. "He's an amazing horse. He's probably the best sprinter in the country, and I think he can win going a mile and a half on the turf -- I really do. (Castellano) never moved on him. He just took a hold of him in the stretch."
The versatile Ghostzapper won all four of his starts last year at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. The son of Awesome Again took the seven-furlong Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II) by 4 1/4 lengths on July 4, then won the 1 1/8-mile Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap(gr. III) by 10 3/4 lengths on Aug. 21, the 1 1/8-mile Woodward Stakes (gr. I) by a neck on Sept. 11 and clinched Horse of the Year honors with a three-length win in the 1 1/4 -mile Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) on Oct. 30.
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