Shaman Ghost provides gratifying win for Jerkens

ARCADIA, Calif. -- Trainer Jimmy Jerkens grew up on the East Coast and has been based there his whole career, but he has a great appreciation for the sport and its history nationwide, so after Shaman's Ghost was led out of the winner's circle following his victory in the Santa Anita Handicap here on Saturday, he knew he had been part of something special.

"It feels terrific," Jerkens said. "To have that race on your resume means a lot. It's always been a big race."

Yes, the Grade 1, $751,035 Santa Anita Handicap, affectionately known as the Big Cap, still has cache. Shaman Ghost added his name to those who have won the previous 79 runnings by wearing down pacesetting Midnight Storm in the closing yards to prevail by three-quarters of a length and give jockey Javier Castellano his second Grade 1 win on the card, following the Kilroe Mile with Bal a Bali.

It was another 4 1/2 lengths back to third-place Follow Me Crev, who was followed, in order, by Hi Happy, Isotherm, Hard Aces, Twentytwentyvision, Gangster, and Imperative.

Shaman Ghost ($4.60), the favorite, completed 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track in 2:01.57. It was a popular win in the executive offices, as Shaman Ghost was bred by Adena Springs and owned by Stronach Stables, part of track owner Frank Stronach's vast equine holdings.

Shaman Ghost is usually best when he can sit back and make a run, but with little pace in the Big Cap, he had to be closer than usual. Midnight Storm, as expected, took the early lead, and jockey Rafael Bejarano tried to slow the pace down, with fractions of 23.54 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 47.52 for a half, and 1:11.76 for six furlongs. Shaman Ghost was third at that point, just 1 1/2 lengths back.

"We thought they would try and back it up into everybody's lap," Jerkens said.

Midnight Storm tried to shake free in upper stretch, and while Isotherm - who had been second -- could not go with him, Shaman Ghost took up the chase. Castellano said he hit Shaman Ghost left-handed in midstretch to try and avoid engaging Midnight Storm, figuring that horse would still be fresh for a fight. He left several lanes between Midnight Storm and Shaman Ghost, and when Castellano hit Shaman Ghost right-handed in deep stretch, he surged and drifted back inward, but by then he was rolling past Midnight Storm.

Bejarano offered no excuses for Midnight Storm, saying Shaman Ghost was "just a little bit better."

Shaman Ghost was winning for the seventh time in 15 starts. This was his second trip to California, but his first race here. He was entered in the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall, but came off his feed in the days leading up to the race, spiked a fever, and was scratched.

This week "was a lot different," said Jerkens, who said Shaman Ghost "had good energy all week."

Shaman Ghost had finished second in his most recent start in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28, behind Arrogate. Once Arrogate committed to the Dubai World Cup later this month, and bypassed the Big Cap, this race became far more appealing for a horse based this winter in Florida.

Shaman Ghost, 5, is a son of Ghostzapper. The $450,000 winner's share brought his career earnings to more than $3.5 million.