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HEAR THE GHOST AND NAKATANI LARGER THAN LIFE FROM OFF THE PACE, WIN GRADE II SAN FELIPE BY HALF LENGTH AND JOIN HEAVYWEIGHTS ON ROAD TO GRADE I SANTA ANITA DERBY APRIL 6
ARCADIA, Calif. (March 9, 2013)—Hear the Ghost was a horse few people saw or heard coming until Saturday at Santa Anita. Six lengths behind well fancied favorites Flashback and Goldencents at the quarter pole, Hear the Ghost suddenly appeared larger than life as he unleashed a furious stretch rally under veteran Corey Nakatani to take the Grade II, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes going away by a half length over Flashback and Julien Leparoux, covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.34, thus stamping himself as a leading candidate for the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 6.
In a race that set up for a closer, 22-1 longshot Salutos Amigos went to the front into the Club House turn, 1 ½ lengths clear of even money favorite Flashback, who was just a head clear of 2-1 second choice Goldencents, who was ridden by Kevin Krigger.
As the field headed down the backstretch, Goldencents and Flashback blew by Salutos Amigos and raced as a team to mid-stretch, with Goldencents tiring at the rail and Flashback faced with the daunting task of holding off a pair of closers—Hear the Ghost and Tiz a Minister, who rallied from last in the field of eight under Garrett Gomez.
With fractions of 22.97, 45.95, 1:09.94 and 1:35.70 to run at, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Hear the Ghost, who was trying two turns in only his third career start, won going away in a manner that suggests he may be capable of getting longer distances such as the mile and one eighth Santa Anita Derby and the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby on May 4.
“I got a lot of enjoyment out of buying this horse and racing him with my partner, Ted Aroney (who races as Halo Farms). We’ll find out about longer distances. That’s where we have to go next. I think we’ll stay home for the Santa Anita Derby.
“I just told Corey to watch the pace and try to be tactical and not get caught down inside…I have a great deal of confidence in this guy. He’s won some very big races for me along the way, so he can ride anything of mine.
“I thought this horse would have a very good chance to run them down today…I thought they would put up a pretty good pace.”
Purchased for $40,000 at the 2011 Keenland September yearling sale, Hear the Ghost is owned by Hollendorfer and Aroney’s Halo Farms. Off at 5-1, the Kentucky-bred gelding by Ghostzapper paid $13.80, $4.60 and $3.60.
With the winner’s share of $180,000, Hear the Ghost hiked his bankroll to $224,400 and he now has two wins and a second from three starts.
“I’d like to get on the Derby trail with a horse, and this is it,” said Nakatani, who picked up his third career San Felipe win Saturday. “…The horse has done everything Jerry has asked him to do so far, so hopefully, he’ll be on that road.”
Like the winner, Flashback was making only his third career start, but loomed a standout on the strength of his 6 ¼ length win in the Grade II, 1 1/16 miles Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 2.
“On the first turn, he (Julien Leparoux) said he was behind horses,” said Flashback’s trainer, Bob Baffert. “I think if he had stayed inside it probably would have been better. He took him out of there (so he wouldn’t) get trapped, and then all of a sudden, Goldencents came and engaged him and it turned into a match race down the backside.
“I think he ran well despite all that. 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.”
Flashback returned $2.60 and $2.40, while Tiz a Minister, who was outrun by the winner from the top of the stretch home, paid $4.00 to show.
As to the way the race set up, jockey Krigger had a decidedly different post race “take” than did Baffert.
“Coming into the first turn, I got him to turn off (relax), and I was surprised, as good of a rider as Julien is supposed to be, the move he made around the turn to make us have a dogfight race all the way around,” said Krigger. “Turning into the backstretch, that’s like committing suicide, you know?
“If we’re going that fast easily, that’s understandable, but to pressure a race like that…being on a favorite, that’s not a favorite’s ride at all. He (Leparoux) had the ideal scenario going into the first turn, and I mean, my horse came up tired today. There’s not much else I can say.”
Trained by Baffert’s arch rival Doug O’Neill, Goldencents had to settle for fourth money, 5 ¾ lengths in front of early leader Salutos Amigos.
“I thought Martin Garcia (on Salutos Amigos) would go, but I was shocked that Flashback was so close up,” said O’Neill. “I thought he’d be a little farther back…If he (Goldencents) comes out of it good and we’re still thinking about the (Kentucky) Derby, we’ll have to look at a prep.”
Under the new Kentucky Derby qualifying points system, Hear the Ghost picked up 50 points, while runner-up Flashback bagged 20, giving him 30 points overall. Third place finisher Tiz a Minister got 10 points. Fourth place was good for five points, bringing Goldencents’ total to 29.
The Grade III, $100,000 Las Flores Stakes will highlight a nine-race card on Sunday, with first post time at 12:30 p.m.