Ghostzapper scored his fourth straight win and stamped himself a prime contender for next month's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic by winning Saturday's $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park in a tight stretch duel with Saint Liam.
Saint Liam set a blistering early pace, passing the 6-furlong marker in 1:08.75 and the mile in 1:33.35. He didn't give up when challenged, either, as Ghostzapper could never get by him through the stretch run. The final margin was only a neck.
Time for the 1 1/8 mile was 1:46.21, less than a half-second off Forego's 1976 record. Ghostzapper came into the race off a 10 3/4-length victory in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth. He has won seven of his nine starts.
"He always won his races easily, but he fought on and ran a big race today, said Ghostzapper's trainer, Bobby Frankel. "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. I knew (Saint Liam's trainer Richard) Dutrow loved his horse going into the race.
"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."
Frankel said he might start Ghostzapper in the Oct. 2 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont as a final prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic, Powered By Dodge, which highlights the Oct. 30 Breeders Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Lone Star Park in Texas.
Frankel has never won the Classic.
In other weekend races with implications for the Oct. 30 divisional showdowns:
$2 million John Deere Turf
-- Magistretti, placed second in the Arlington Million last time out, made a strong stretch move to win Saturday's $500,000 Man o'War at Belmont by 1 1/4 length over Epalo. With Edgar Prado up, Magistretti ran 1 3/8 mile on the turf in 2:14.65, picking up his first victory in five starts this year. King's Drama, a stablemate of Epalo, was third. "Around the turn, my horse grabbed the bit and wanted to go inside," said Prado of his first Man O'War winner. "I thought I was in trouble at the top of the stretch. I had to wait. I got him outside, he switched leads and had another gear. I think Patrick (Biancone, trainer) did a super job with the horse. It was a big finish." Said Biancone, "We'll play it by ear, but it looks most logically to run in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Grade 1, $750,000, 3 and up, mile and a half, turf, Belmont Park, Saturday, October 2nd)." Epalo is headed back to Germany, then perhaps to the Cox Plate in Australia or the Japan Cup.
-- At Leopardstown in Ireland, Azamour, an Aga Kahn homebred, rallied from last to win Sunday's Irish Champion Stakes, the sixth leg of the World Series Racing Championship by 1/2 length. The colt finished the 1 1/4 mile in 2:01.90 under Mick Kinane. Trainer John Oxx said Azamour may have made his final start for the year The 3-year-old finished third in the Two Thousand Guineas in May -- his first loss. He then followed with a second in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas before getting back on the winning track in the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. He now hs four wins from six starts.
-- At Doncaster in England, Rule of Law won Saturday's St. Leger Stakes, taking the lead at mid-stretch and fending off a late bid by the filly, Quiff. The final margin was a head. Tycoon was third, 1 1/2 lengths farther back. Rule of Law, from the Godolphin Stable, was second in the English Derby in June behind North Light.
$1 million NetJets Mile (turf)
Twilight Road rallied from off the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Miami Mile Breeders' Cup Handicap at Calder Race Course, caught the leaders in deep stretch and went on to win by 1/2 length over Gold Dollar. Paradise Dancer was third. Twilight Road, a 7-year-old Cahill Road gelding, ran the grassy 1 mile in 1:39 2/5. "We'll just look at the options now, turf or dirt," said winning trainer David Fawkes. "Obviously, he can handle both." Jockey Phil Teator said Twilight Road "was just sitting behind horses, waiting for me to push the button."
$1 million Sprint
-- Ebony Breeze had no trouble in Saturday's $200,000 Endine Handicap at Delaware Park. With Herberto Castillo up, the 4-year-old Belong to Me filly came from last to win by 3 lengths, running 6 furlongs in 1:09.73. Umpateedle was second and Bronze Abe was third. Ebony Breeze is a Bill Mott trainee for George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable. "On her game," said Castillo, "she is as good a sprinter as any other filly I have seen going three quarters (of a mile)."
-- At Woodbine near Toronto, Brass in Pocket captured Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Seaway Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 1/4 lengths over Winter Garden. El Prado Essence was third. Brass in Pocket, trained by Robert Tiller, led all the way, defending her title in the Seaway and pushing her lifetime earnings past $1 million. The 5-year-old daughter of Domasca Dan has been worst than third only three times in 20 starts. She ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.26.
$2 million Nextel Distaff
-- Stellar Jayne won the $250,000 Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park Saturday. Stellar Jayne won the Mother Goose in June, then finished second to Ashado in the Coaching Club American Oaks in July and Society Selection in August. In the Gazelle, she was headed by Daydreaming at the top of the stretch but held on an came back to win by 1 length. With Robby Albarado up, she finished in 1:48.25. "She's 1,200 pounds of heart," said Peter Hutton, assistant to winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "She's really incredible. Robby (Albarado) knows her so well, he knew he had a kick left. She was sharp and on her toes in the post parade, and that gave Robby a lot of confidence. I know Wayne talked about giving her a break after this, and obviously looking to the Breeders' Cup."
-- Lucifer's Stone, with Jose Santos up, got going in the stretch run of Sunday's $250,000 Garden City Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, came wide for room and got home first, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Barancella. Noahs Ark was third while the favorite, Torrestrella, beat only one filly in the seven-horse field. "The way we were planning was the way the race set up," said Santos. "My filly was pretty relaxed. When I came out the last eighth of a mile, and was in between horses, I just showed her the whip." Trainer Linda Rice said she will point the filly to the Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland on Oct. 16. Lucifer's Stone is a daughter of the South African sire Horse Chestnut. She now has won five of her 10 starts. Rice cross-entered her in the Boiling Spring at Monmouth but picked the tougher Belmont test. "She really had to deliver," Rice said.
-- Seducer's Song, with Joe Bravo up, came three-wide on the turn in Sunday's Boiling Springs Stakes at Monmouth Park, got to the front and then withstood a late run by Go Robin to win by 1/2 length. Winner of the Lake George Stakes early in the Saratoga meeting, Seducer's Song finished fourth in the Del Mar Oaks in her next start. She has four wins from eight starts. "Joe rode her beautifully," said Brian Ange, assistant to winning trainer Christophe Clement.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Declan's Moon upset 1-9 favorite Roman Ruler in Thursday's $250,000 Del Mar Futurity. Declan's Moon, a son of Malibu Moon, was headed briefly by the favorite in the stretch run but came back to win by a neck. The Ron Ellis trainee now is unbeaten in two starts. Roman Ruler, by Fusaichi Pegasus, had won a maiden event and the Best Pal Stakes before the Futurity. Declan's Moon finished the 7 furlongs in stakes-record time of 1:21.29. "They're both nice colts," said winning rider Victor Espinoza. "We were in close and side by side through the last part and my horse was giving me all he had. I don't think the other horse ever got in front of me." Bob Baffert, who trains Roman Ruler, said it "was a good race and that time was racehorse time."
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
Fearless Flyer, an Irish-bred daughter of Brave Act, upset Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Natalma Stakes at Woodbine in Canada. Racing near the back of the pack early, the filly came off the turn under a full head of steam, passed the leaders and won y 1 1/2 lengths over Sweet Solario. The favorite, Little Hussy, was third. Brave Act ran the 1 mile in 1:34.99. "I think she really enjoyed herself," said winning rider Emile Ramsammy. "A typical European horse. A big, galloping horse. I think she enjoyed it better than some of the other shippers."
News and notes
Smarty Jones won't be running for the big bucks in the Breeders' Cup Classic. But that doesn't mean he's done earning money. Three Chimneys Farm announced this week the popular Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner will stand for $100,000, guaranteed live foal, in his first season.