Homebred grade 1 winner Shaman Ghost took his skills to Maryland and gave owner Frank Stronach a thrill on the state's biggest racing weekend.
Dropped down from a victory in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Miguel Indian Bingo and Casino (G1), which followed a runner-up finish to champion Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1), the 5-year-old son of Adena Springs stallion Ghostzapper ground out a determined neck victory May 19 over pacesetter and fellow Jimmy Jerkens trainee Dolphus in the $300,000 Xpressbet Pimlico Special (G3) at Pimlico Race Course, a track owned by The Stronach Group, one day before the Preakness Stakes (G1).
Dolphus, a half brother to Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, showed the way throughout and dug in gamely when Shaman Ghost came to him with a sweeping move under Javier Castellano, but could not hold off his stablemate.
"I could have gone to the lead any time, but I didn't want to," Castellano said. "He's very straightforward. You can put him wherever you want."
"I just couldn't hold off Shaman Ghost, but he battled hard today," jockey Rajiv Maragh said of Dolphus, who ran fractions of :23.84 and :47.92 for a half-mile, then carried on through three-quarters in 1:12.41 and a mile in 1:36.50. Shaman Ghost bided his time in the second tier before mounting the outside rally that carried him to victory. The final time for the 1 3/16-mile challenge was 1:54.55 on a fast main track.
"Dolphus had his own way," Jerkens said. "He wasn't exactly walking, but he got three-quarters in 1:12. The way the track was playing today, I thought he had a shot to hang on. Shaman had a little too much for him, but Dolphus ran terrific. It's terrifict to run 1-2... It's great to win for Mr. Stronach at his track, and it's great to keep Shaman going."
Shaman Ghost brought $2.80, $2.20, and $2.10 at odds of 2-5, Dolphus paid $4 and $3.40, and Conquest Windycity completed the trifecta 7 1/4 lengths back in third with a $3.20 return. He was followed home by Name Changer, Watershed, Discreet Lover, Fellowship, Eagle, and Bodhisattva.
"I love the horse and I have so much confidence in him, because he reminds me of his father," said Castellano, who rode Ghostzapper to his Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) score for Stronach in 2004. "Ghostzapper was such a great horse. He got better the more he matured.
"This is such an honest horse. Jimmy Jerkens did a great job for him. He takes his time and picks out good spots."
Bred in Ontario out of the Gilded Time mare Getback Time, Shaman Ghost picked up his fifth graded stakes score and eighth win overall. He launched his progression to the top level with a victory in the 2015 Marine Stakes (G3) at Woodbine while in the care of trainer Brian Lynch, after which he won the Queens Plate and ran second in the Prince of Wales Stakes.
Moved to Jerkens, he won the Brooklyn Stakes (G2) and Woodward Stakes (G1) in 2016, then was third in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (G1) to cap his campaign before the 2017 run that has seen him put together back-to-back graded wins.