Hear the Ghost blew past weakening favorites Flashback and Goldencents in deep stretch to post a half-length upset in the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 9 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
The victory, with Corey Nakatani in the irons for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, shook up the West Coast 3-year-old division a month in advance of the April 6 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
Hear the Ghost, with just two prior starts, was making his first try beyond six furlongs while facing graded stakes company for the first time in his brief career. But stamina was no issue for the son of Ghostzapper out of the winning Coronado's Quest mare Rehear in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe.
The final time was a good 1:42.34 over a track rated fast.
Hear the Ghost had been working extensively for Hollendorfer at Betfair Hollywood Park since a runner-up finish in Santa Anita's San Pedro Stakes for sprinters Jan. 21, including a pair of seven-furlong drills late last month.
Ted Aroney's Halo Farms owns Hear the Ghost in partnership with Hollendorfer. The chestnut gelding, bred in Kentucky by W.S. Farish and Lazy F Ranch, was a $40,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2011.
"I got a lot of enjoyment out of buying this horse and racing him with my partner, Ted Aroney," said Hollendorfer after claiming his first San Felipe victory. "We'll find out (about longer distances). That's where we have to go next. I think we will (stay home for the Santa Anita Derby)."
Hollendorfer said he anticipated a fast pace for his horse to close into and that is how the race transpired.
"I thought this horse would have a very good chance to run them down today," he said. "I thought that all day long. I thought they would put up a pretty good pace."
Hear the Ghost earned 50 points toward a possible start in the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) under the Derby's new qualifying system. Heretofore almost unknown, Hear the Ghost is almost assured of a starting spot with the San Felipe victory.
Gary and Mary West's Flashback, dominating winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) for trainer Bob Baffert, was made the even-money favorite in the field of eight 3-year-olds, with Sham Stakes (gr. III) victor Goldencents the second choice at 2-1 for trainer Doug O'Neill. Hear the Ghost was third in the wagering at nearly 6-1.
Goldencents broke best but outsider Salutos Amigos wanted the early lead and took the advantage heading into the clubhouse turn while completing the opening quarter mile in :22.97. Coming into the backstretch, Goldencents, racing between horses for Kevin Krigger, tugged his way to the front, with Flashback going with him on his outside and those two pulled away from the rest in a personal tussle while clipping off a blazing half mile in :45.95 and six furlongs in 1:09.94. Hear the Ghost wanted none of that early pressure and was content to race fourth or fifth most of the way.
"I was grinning ear-to-ear," Nakatani said of the way the race unfolded. "I just knew what was happening."
Coming out of the far turn, Goldencents carried Flashback and Julien Leparoux wide as they bumped briefly, but the the big gray colt battled on and gradually put away Goldencents approaching the sixteenth pole.
But both were spent at that point as Hear the Ghost, tracked down the middle of the homestretch by Tiz a Minister, thundered home. Hear the Ghost hit the front in the final strides with urging from Nakatani to edge Flashback, who managed to save the place spot by half a length over Tiz a Minister and Garrett Gomez. Goldencents was fourth.
Nakatani said he's been looking for a horse like Hear the Ghost.
"Jerry said, 'I'm going to find you a good one,' and I've been working some horses for him in the morning, asking for some help," Nakatani said. "I want to stay home, with my family, and stay on the West Coast. I'd like to get on the Derby trail with a horse, and this is it. He's given me a chance to win (another) Santa Anita Derby with this colt, and the horse has done everything Jerry has asked him to do so far, so hopefully, he'll be on that road."
Nakatani, who won his third San Felipe and his first since A. P. Warrior in 2006, said he thinks Hear the Ghost will continue to improve with longer distances.
"I don't have any doubt that he will," he said. "He gets in that high cruising speed, and he just kind of cruises along, you don't have to ask him, you don't have to even move on him. He's a little seasoned horse. He's gotten better each time that I've been able to do something with him."
Hear the Ghost, who debuted impressively with a 3 1/4-length win at Hollywood Park Dec. 15 at odds of 16-1, has now won two of three starts while earnings of $222,400. The San Felipe victory was worth $180,000.
The winner carried 119 pounds and paid $13.80, $4.60, and $3.60. Flashback returned $2.60 and $2.40 while completing a $38.40 exacta. California-bred Tiz a Minister, making his first start since taking the Cal Breeders Championship Jan. 26 at Santa Anita, was $3 to show.
Goldencents was followed by Salutos Amigos, Carving, Omega Star, and Kochees.
Flashback picked up 20 points on the Derby qualifying system and now has 30 points to rank fifth among active Derby hopefuls, while Goldencents is right behind him with 29.
Baffert said he wished Leparoux had kept Flashback on the inside rather than allowing the headstrong colt to engage with Goldencents down the the backside.
"I think he ran well despite all that," Baffert said. "He had a nice, tough race and he got tired at the end, considering he went so fast, but I think we learned a lot about him today. I think we were just intimidated by the free speed today, and the rail, so you learn from racing. That's what these preps are all about."