Stronach Stable's Ghostzapper, out of action for more than nine months, showed no signs of rustiness with an emphatic triumph over three rivals in the $142,500 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park Sunday.
Ridden by Javier Castellano, Ghostzapper's time for the seven-furlong Tom Fool was 1:20 2/5, just two-fifths of a second off the Belmont track record set by Left Bank, the Eclipse Award winner as top older male in 2002, in the Tom Fool on July 4, 2002. The winning margin was 4 1/4 lengths over Aggadan. Unforgettable Max finished third and Lion Tamer trailed.
Winning trainer Bobby Frankel said he was expecting a strong performance Sunday after a powerful series of works.
"He's a very good horse," Frankel said. "I'm not surprised, not in the least."
Frankel said the seven-furlong Forego (gr. I) at Saratoga Sept. 4 would be Ghostzapper's next goal, with another start prior to that likely. He also said he plans to stretch out his top sprinter at the Belmont fall meeting.
Frankel also won the 2003 Tom Fool Handicap with Aldebaran.
Last seen winning the Vosburgh (gr. I) by 6 1/2 lengths at Belmont Sept. 27, Frankel decided to skip the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), thinking the Santa Anita track surface does not suit Ghostzapper's late-running style. Foot problems delayed the 4-year-old Awesome Again
colt's earlier return.
His impressive victory Sunday moves him right to the top of the sprint division rankings, however.
Eschewing his usual take-back style, Castellano put Ghostzapper into the race early. He was third down the backstretch as Unforgettable Max, prompted by Aggadan, clicked off a :22 2/5 opening quarter-mile and a :44 3/5 half. On the turn, Lion Tamer, ridden by John Velazquez, with Ghostzapper on his outside, moved as a team on outside of the leaders and all four horses battled across the track.
Ghostzapper, still on the outside, and Lion Tamer continued to battle into the stretch, but Ghostzapper soon assumed control as Lion Tamer fell back. He was ridden out to the wire. Aggadan, with Edgar Prado aboard, trailed for a time in the lane but rallied on the outside of his rivals to be a clear second by 3 1/2 lenghts over Unforgettable Max and Jerry Bailey. Lion Tamer was another half-length behind.
Castellano said he believes Ghostzapper is the best horse he has been on.
"Bobby wanted to give him a rest and have him start fresh," Castellano said. "Bobby didn't want me to kill the horse after the layoff. I had to keep him with the pace, but not go too early and overuse him. He ran a big race today."
The Adena Springs homebred Ghostzapper, who is out of the Relaunch mare Baby Zip, won for the fifth time in seven career starts and pushed his earnings to $496,120. At Belmont Park, Ghostzapper is 3-for-3 with earnings of $417,000.
Ghostzapper paid $4.70 and $3.20. Aggadan returned $5.40 and completed a $22.40 exacta.