There was no debating Ghostzapper's talent heading into the $500,000 Woodward (gr. I) at Belmont Park Saturday. After his gut-wrenching neck victory over Saint Liam, fans have a good idea of the size of his heart as well.
Forced outward continually by the pacesetting Saint Liam through most of the stretch, Ghostzapper came back a couple of times to prevail at the end for jockey Javier Castellano, who won his first Woodward. The final time of 1:46 1/5 for the nine furlongs on a track that was not playing fast Saturday matched Mineshaft's Woodward time last year. It was four-fifths off the track record of 1:45 2/5.
"He always won his races easily, but he fought on and ran a big race today," winning trainer Bobby Frankel said. "I thought we had Saint Liam when he moved up along side of him. I'm glad it's over with. Saint Liam hung in there tough.
"Ghostzapper is a really good horse. This is the first battle he's been in, and he handled it well. I was just a little surprised we couldn't put Saint Liam away earlier. I'm going to play it by ear, see how he comes out of this race. We know he likes this track."
Ghostzapper has won all four of his starts at Belmont Park.
Bowman's Band was a distant third, 9 1/4 lengths behind, in the field of seven.
Saint Liam and Ghostzapper separated themselves from the field on the turn and had the stretch to themselves as Bowman's Band was unable to take advantage of the wide open rail.
Good thing, too, as Prado on Saint Liam seemed determined to use as much of the stretch as possible in a breathtaking duel. Saint Liam stayed well off the rail most of the way, setting a fast though contested early pace of :22 3/5 and :45 3/5 with Ghostzapper pinned to his withers. After six furlongs in 1:08 3/5, Presidentialaffair and Bowman's Band fell off the pace. Ghostzapper and Saint Liam completed the mile in an eye-catching 1:33 1/5 and the two staggered to the wire.
"Prado did a good job," Castellano said. "(Saint Liam) was trying to get out a lot. I kept yelling, `Prado, keep your horse straight!' He bumped my horse a little bit, and my horse went on his wrong lead.
"I love this horse. He's got a good, good heart. This is the first time he had to win like this (in a stretch battle) and he showed how good he really is."
Noted Prado, "I was doing everything I could to keep him straight. I didn't want to win the race and have them take my number down. He was getting out bad."
Ghostzapper, who is owned Stronach Stables, whose Adena Springs bred him, has won all three of his starts this year and four in a row since last fall's Vosburgh (gr. I), turning in superb efforts each time.
Overall, the 4-year-old bay son of Awesome Again
–Baby Zip (Relaunch) has won seven of his nine lifetime starts with earnings of $919,120.
He paid $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10 as the 2/5 choice. Saint Liam, who was coming off a pair of tough losses to the Frankel-trained Peace Rules, returned $5.60 and $2.20. Bowman's Band was $2.10 to show.
"At the eighth-pole, I thought we had it," said Richard Dutrow Jr, trainer of Saint Liam. "I don't know what happened on the turn (bearing out), but I don't think it made any difference. Ghostzapper would have stayed right with us."
He said he would talk to Saint Liam's owners about the Breeders' Cup Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park. "He showed he belongs in that company. I don't think his best game is going to the lead, like he did today."
Seek Gold ran fourth, followed by Newfoundland, Midway Road and Presidentialaffair.