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Ghostzapper's Excellent Weekend

Memorial Day weekend's racing in the U.S. was highlighted by an epic Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) duel between Shackleford and Caleb's Posse. However, it also featured a notable achievement by a former Metropolitan Handicap victor, Ghostzapper (TrueNicks,SRO), who was represented by graded winners on all-weather, turf, and dirt.

On Saturday at Woodbine, Ghostzapper's 5-year-old son Hunters Bay made his stakes debut and ran out a three-length winner of the 8 1/2-furlong Eclipse Stakes (gr. III), while narrowly missing the Woodbine track record. Monday at Belmont Park was even more auspicious through the achievements of pair of Ghostzapper 3-year-old fillies: Better Lucky, who captured the Sands Point Stakes (gr. II) on her turf debut, and Contested, who recorded her fourth straight win in five starts with a dominating five-length victory in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I, video below).

A son of Awesome Again (TrueNicks,SRO) and the Relaunch mare Baby Zip, Ghostzapper was, for our money, the best U.S. dirt runner since Holy Bull (TrueNicks,SRO) a decade earlier, and arguably for even longer period. He won nine of 11 starts, including the Vosburgh Stakes by 6 1/2 lengths as 3-year-old against older horses; the Tom Fool Stakes (gr. III) by 4 1/2 lengths, the Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) by 103/4 lengths, the Woodward Stakes (gr. I, video below) in a memorable battle with subsequent Horse of the Year Saint Liam, and the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) by three lengths in a new track record at 4; and the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) by 61/4 lengths in his only start at 5.

Ghostzapper began his stud career at $200,000, and the fact that he was advertised for 2012 at $20,000 live foal reveals that the highest expectations have not been met. Indeed, in terms of success to opportunity, the champion has been overshadowed by his older and initially far-less-heralded half brother City Zip (TrueNicks,SRO). Still, while he may never again warrant a six-figure stud fee, the record is beginning to indicate that Ghostzapper is a very usable stallion at his current asking price.

Ghostzapper now has 17 stakes winners, eight of them graded from his first three crops. The first crop, now 5, has yielded nine stakes winners from 81 named foals, including the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) captor Stately Victor; the previously mentioned Hunters Bay, who looks a contender for older horse honors in Canada; Pacific Ocean, who took the Vernon O. Underwood Stakes (gr. III); and the Turnback the Alarm Handicap (gr. III) winner Arena Elvira. So far there are only three stakes winners from Ghostzapper's second crop, headed by Matthewsburg, who took Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III), but the third crop features five black-type winners, including not only the weekend stars Contested and Better Lucky, but also Italian group winner United Color, and Judy the Beauty, winner of the Shady Well Stakes and runner-up in the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I).

Looking at his two grade I winners, Contested (dam by Arch (TrueNicks,SRO)) and Stately Victor (dam by Dynaformer's grade I-winning daughter Collect the Cash) (both TrueNicks A+), we can note that they represent two of the 13 starters sired by Ghostzapper out of Roberto line mares. This follows a trend established by Awesome Again, who has three stakes winners from 30 starters out of mares by sons or grandsons of Roberto. We can also note that Contested and Stately Victor both have In Reality in their pedigrees. This is rather intriguing, as one aspect of Ghostzapper's pedigree and stud career that is interesting is that he himself is a complete outcross through five generations (and by a stallion that was almost an outcross at that distance, his sole duplication at that distance being Native Dancer 5x5), and is in a program that strongly favors outcross matings. In Reality (grandsire of Ghostzapper's dam) who was inbred 3x3 to War Relic (himself inbred closely to two of the grandparents of Man o'War) is the most intensely inbred individual in the first few generations of Ghostzapper's pedigree. Perhaps, therefore, it's not coincidence that In Reality already appears in the dams of five of Ghostzapper's stakes winners, and as far as duplicating In Reality within four generations, it's found in three Ghostzapper stakes winners from only 10 starters.

A look at the pedigree of Contested reveals another inbreeding and linebreeding trend. Her second dam is by Seeking the Gold (by Mr. Prospector), that same horse appearing as sire of the dam of Better Lucky (TrueNicks A). The cross of Ghostzapper over mares by Mr. Prospector and his sons and grandsons has produced six stakes winners from 54 starters (11%), with the other successful broodmare sires being Twining (Forty Niner branch, and from the immediate family of Arch, the broodmare sire of Contested), Smoke Glacken (TrueNicks,SRO) and his sire Two Punch, Unbridled, and Gulch. Overall, Mr. Prospector is duplicated in 10 of Ghostzapper's stakes winners, and seven of his eight graded winners, and within four generations, Mr. Prospector appears in nine Ghostzapper stakes winners, from only 85 starters.

Ghostzapper's best runner out of a Northern Dancer line mare is Italian group scorer United Color (TrueNicks A++), who is out of a mare by Langfuhr (TrueNicks,SRO) (and so one of two stakes winners from only seven starters on a Ghostzapper/Danzig cross, the other being out of a mare by Tilt the Stars).

Graded winner Matthewsburg (out of a mare by A.P. Indy) and stakes winner Slews Answer (dam by Seattle Slew) are Ghostzapper's two stakes winners from 33 stakes winners out of Seattle Slew line mares, this cross seeming to be less effective for Ghostzapper than for Awesome Again.

The grade I-placed Judy the Beauty (TrueNicks B+) is out of a mare by Holy Bull, sire of champion Macho Uno (TrueNicks,SRO) out of the dam of Awesome Again. Holy Bull is a horse with a very similar genetic background to Ghostzapper's broodmare sire, Relaunch, and his sire, Great Above, is a reverse cross to In Reality (this is one of two Ghostzapper stakes winners with duplication of In Reality's sire, Intentionally, through another source).

Dynazaper (TrueNicks A++) is a rare outcrossed Ghostzapper, as she is from a daughter of Broad Brush (himself inbred 3x3 to Turn-to), also broodmare sire of a stakes winner for Awesome Again. Ghostzapper also has stakes winner Golden Ghost (TrueNicks B) out of a mare by Gilded Time, from the Damascus line, and stakes winner Z Appeal (TrueNicks A++) from a daughter of Turkoman (three stakes winners and a stakes-placed horse from five starters by Awesome Again and Ghostzapper out of Turkoman mares). Turkoman's sire, Alydar, is also broodmare sire of Arch, who we've met in the pedigree of Contested. We'll also record that Stately Victor comes from the immediate family of Ghostzapper's male line ancestor, Deputy Minister, and that Ghostzapper may also like Green Dancer and Grey Dawn II, from a family that has links to Deputy Minister's female line.

We would also be remiss if we didn't note that in addition to some marked pedigree trends, Ghostzapper appears to respond extremely well to racing class in his mates. Two of his stakes winners are out of grade I winners; six more out of grade II and III winners; and another three out of listed-winning mares. With that in mind, he might be an interesting value for money play for a breeder with an older class racemare, with the right pedigree.

12 Comments:

Yes, Ghostzapper did have that big weekend, but it's hard to deny that he has been a disappointment (relative to opportunity) at stud. After all these years, despite all the data at our disposal, it seems we have improved little, if any, in our ability to predict stallion success. I really feel that we could make meaningful strides (without the use of genome research) toward this end were we to make better use of our bank of data and observation. I think that many of the answers are within our grasp, but requires the hard work of many. It would produce an obvious benefit in that far fewer elite broodmares would be "wasted" to inferior sires-a large drag on the improvement/or, perhaps, stability of the breed..This idea again occurred to me while reading this piece on Ghostzapper whom I had been skeptical about from the time of his retirement. But the cause(s) for that skepticism, though truly felt, is not easily verbalized and seems to relate to more than mere printed race record or supeficial look at pedigree. Take, for example, an Indian Charlie. Pedigree-wise he is qualitatively not too dissimilar from Ghostzapper and, like Ghostzapper, is a 5 gen. outcross, and a relative outcross to the breeding population. Most would argue that Ghostzapper was the superior runner. Yet, I was far more confident that Indian Charlie would make a successful stallion. Anecdote only as this is, I have a suspicion that careful comparatives of this type might yield us some answers.        

sceptre 04 Jun 2012 6:42 PM

Sceptre: isn't one of the funs of racing waitin' and hopin' for your horse (not necessarily because you own him or her but just because you loved to follow them) to throw something wonderful in the future?  If breeding racehorses  becomes a cut and dried numbers crunching game, wouldn't the big guys (people with money) ALWAYS end up owning the great horses, with no room for a John Henry or a Seattle Slew or even a Mine that Bird?

I understand trying to control the improvement of the breed (and I personally think breeding in some stamina right now in the (North) American thoroughbred would be a good idea) but I still love the serendipity of a Tiznow from nowhere.

(OK, not actually nowhere -- there is Northern Dancer blood and some nice Chilean family blood in there but you know what I mean)

Just a thought.

mz 05 Jun 2012 11:17 AM

mz:

I sympathize with some of your sentiments, and one long day away, perhaps, we may learn too many answers (genome  analysis, etc.), but for now I think it better that we don't stand pat. Aside from the potential gains I mentioned, it seems simply right that those stallions more inherently gifted deserve access to the greater numbers and better mares. All too often, in retrospect, the better "connected" stallions receive an undeserved disproportionate number of our best mares.  

sceptre 05 Jun 2012 12:58 PM

Is it Germany that doesn't allow horses to go to stud unless they are certified non-bleeders?  Maybe this is something that we can do but otherwise, I don't know how else you can  choose who is more inherently gifted to breed.  I wonder if Danzig would have been able to go to stud, or Ambiorix; and how do we even choose mares.

mz 05 Jun 2012 8:08 PM

Sceptre,

I agree with a lot of what you have said in terms of our industry doing ourselves a great disservice by not fully using the data that we have to create meaningful breeding values that would make breeding a racehorse somewhat more predictable. The data and methods are there, it just needs doing.

It is completely bizarre that as an industry we have to rely on handicapping figures, such as Rag numbers, Beyers, etc as a measure of genetic worth, when they have low heritability (that is, if a mare runs a 100 Beyer, she has a low chance of producing a foal that will do the same).

Byron Rogers 06 Jun 2012 11:54 AM

MZ

Horses that raced on Lasix and/or bled while racing can go to stud in Germany, their offspring however are not able to participate in the lucrative Breeders Premiums which usually means that they don't bother. There is some use of estimated breeding values in German breeding which is possibly why they have made such good gains in their bloodstock in such a relatively short period of time.

Byron Rogers 06 Jun 2012 6:36 PM

mz:

Inherent ability is likely reflected via numerous parameters (variables/qualities). There is likely also some differences in the parameters associated with inherent performance ability vs inherent siring/producing ability. The main point is, though, that while we may have a handle on some of these factors (parameters, etc.) we are likely incorrect (or improperly weigh, etc.) about some, and blind to many. Your mention of Danzig may serve as a useful illustration. Some, perhaps including yourself, weigh heavily "black type" performance and earnings when attempting to predict stallion success and, perhaps, to the exclusion of other qualities, etc. that I may deem + predictive. Through a far more "careful" scrutiny of the past could it not be possible for us to formulate a better approach toward better refining our predictive skills? Along these lines, Byron's point was very much on target-we kid ourselves that we can (at present) accurately assess performance ability when in fact what we are privy to, and the guidelines utilized are but a whisper of reality.        

sceptre 06 Jun 2012 8:50 PM

mz:

I had intended to correct your observation about Danzig and Ambiorix, but got carried away and neglected to do so.-

While I grasp the relevance of your citing Danzig, I believe you also meant to cite *Alibhai (and not Ambiorix).

Ambiorix was a top racehorse. *Alibhai never started, as he bowed in his fores while in training. But Alibhai may be a good example of the parameters and missing information (what we may not be privy to) issue. Alibhai was quite well bred, being by Hyperion and out of an Oaks producer. We know now that *Alibhai broke a track record in a workout, but I wonder if this was common knowledge at the time. I believe that L.B. Mayer owned him, so it's certain that Mr. Mayer was aware of that workout. Very likely, Mr. Mayer was also privy to his trainer's opinion of *Alibhai's ability. Armed with all this, Mr. Mayer chose to stand this unraced horse at stud. The rest is history, but I'd venture to guess that had *Alibhai been owned by one less prominent, the name, *Alibhai, would not appear in pedigrees.  

sceptre 07 Jun 2012 11:13 PM

Then there's Secretariat . . .

I sometimes think that Secretariat's odd stud career, a disappointing sire and a breed-shaping broodmare sire, is a question of birthing. Secretariat was a horse-and-a-half wide. Getting that pelvis through the dam's pelvis probably resulted in some difficult births. Lost all chance at the start.

On the other hand, a normally conformed foal gestated and foaled by a roomy Secretariat mare would have a splendid prenatal environment and a quick, easy birth. Not contracted, no oxygen deprivation.

Hmmm? I think girls might get this more easily than boys.

Cassandra.Says 09 Jun 2012 3:32 AM

CCassandra.Says:

As I understand it-and I've discussed this very subject with several vets over the years- sire and dam size has no influence on the birth size of the offspring...As an aside- I wouldn't characterize Secretariat as "a horse-and-a-half wide." He may have been slightly wider than the norm, but I've seen many much wider. Let's just face it, he wasn't that good of a sire despite having all the opportunities imaginable. Likely, the main reason he was a good broodmare sire is because he was a distance influence, and the dams of his broodmares were of a far higher quality than the norm.  

sceptre 09 Jun 2012 12:35 PM

I think there were multiple problems with Secretariat as a stallion. He was bred like he was a speed influence, where he was really a long-striding stayer. He was also a very outcrossed horse - as outcrossed a good horse as you'll see - and he tended not to be a dominant influence (think how different Lady's Secret and Risen Star, perhaps his best daughter and son were physically).

As a broodmare sire, as Sceptre said, he did get a leg-up from the quality of mares bred to him. but I'd also say it's possible that he might have passed on to his daughters something from his dam, Somethingroyal, who was an outstanding producer (no, not the X-factor!!).

Alan Porter 10 Jun 2012 9:03 AM

Alan,

All that you posited about Secretariat may indeed be correct (reality), but there's also some evidence for an alternative position which suggests that Secretariat was/is a weaker influence as a broodmare sire than many might imagine. Somethingroyal mostly owes her claim to fame to two offspring, Secretariat and Sir Gaylord. Yes, no small accomplishment, but despite being a prolific producer she managed relatively little else (immediately, or later down the line). She's considered a true "blue hen" (and outstanding influence), and her son, Secretariat, an outstanding broodmare sire (and, perhaps, quite positive influence) largely due to the outstanding sire (and sire-line) credentials of three stallions; A P Indy, Storm Cat, and Gone West. But, let's take a look at their Secretariat dams. Each was exceptionally well-bred (truly elite pedigrees), and each was, by far, the best female racing performer from their respective elite dams. Yes, it could be argued (in circles) that Secretariat's genes were relatively responsible for this racing prowess, but as his overall sire record was far from exemplary, it may be reasonable to hypothesize that their (these three females') prowess instead was largely caused by the somewhat fortuitous receipt of the better genetic "qualities" of, for example, their elite dams, i.e. Secretariat (and Somethingroyal) merely came along for the ride...And, somewhat separately, even if we grant that Somethingroyal was an outstanding producer, why should her genetic "strength" manifest more in the producing capabilities of Secretariat's daughters, and far less so in the racing abilities of Secretariat's daughters (and sons)?...Lastly, while I suppose it's possible that Secretariat might have passed on to his daughters something from his "outstanding producer" dam, Somethingroyal-which enabled them to be better producers than would otherwise have been the case- there are enough anecdotes to suggest that a sire with a blue hen dam may not increase that sire's chances for later broodmare sire success. Bimelech, for one, comes to mind. Bimelech was a near racing prowess equal of Secretariat, just a good sire (better than Secretariat), and was arguably one of the best bred stallions ever-Black Toney out of *La Troienne. I could be mistaken, but it's my recollection (past review) that he would be considered a good, but far from great, broodmare sire.        

sceptre 10 Jun 2012 8:46 PM

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