TORONTO – We already have one Triple Crown in the books in North America this year in American Pharoah. Could there be room for another, courtesy of our neighbors to the north?
The son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper put a stake in the ground Sunday afternoon, laying claim to the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown at a jam-packed Woodbine Racetrack in claiming Canada’s most famous race.
Shaman Ghost soared home late to edge the favored Danish Dynaformer and win the 156th edition of the $1 million Queen’s Plate. The victory in the most continuously run race in North America restricted to 3-year-olds foaled in Canada vaulted Shaman Ghost into the Triple Crown spotlight.
Shaman Ghost, owned by Stronach Stables and trained by Brian Lynch, is expected to run in the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, at Fort Erie Race Track on July 28.
The Canadian Triple Crown is different than the one in the States as the first leg is run on Polytrack, the second on dirt at Fort Erie and the final leg is on the turf in the Breeders Stakes back at Woodbine on Aug. 16.
The winner completed the mile-and-a-quarter trek in 2:03.45 and returned $8.60 for the win, $5 to place and $3.20 to show. Danish Dynaformer returned $4.30 to place and $3 to show and Conquest Boogaloo paid $3.90 for his third-place finish.
It was the third Plate win for Stronach Stables, which won with Basqueian (1994) and Awesome Again (1997) previously.
Stronach was pretty confident going into the race that his horse would triumph. “I felt if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d win it,” said Stronach. “He closed very strong in every race, and he beat other horses in the last race that he faced today.”
Lynch won his first Plate as a trainer in his fourth try, avenging a defeat at the wire by Ginger Brew in 2008 to the Roger Attfield-trained Not Bourbon.
“I still wake up thinking of Not Bourbon and I have the cover of the Blood-horse at home where l look at that photo finish and still think I won that race,” said Lynch, laughing. He turned the tables on the Hall of Fame trainer who was seeking a record-breaking ninth Plate victory.
Attfield was quick to give kudos to his fellow Aussie trainer after the race. “It was a good race, and that was the one horse I was worried about,” Attfield said. “My good friend trains the horse and he’s an excellent trainer, so I knew he’d have him ready even though he’s been away a while. I did think I was holding him off, though.”
Shaman Ghost defeated Danish Dynaformer in his previous race, the Marine Stakes, but sat out the Plate Trial, which was won by the Attfield trainee, escalating him into the favorite’s role. It was apropos that the winners of the two major Plate prep races finished 1-2 in the Plate.
Ghost’s jockey, Rafael Hernandez, took advantage of extremely fast early fractions set by Sweet Grass Creek and Academic, the Woodbine Oaks winner, and sat back to make his late run as he did in the Marine. Lynch was ecstatic with the ride and patience of Hernandez.
“Rafael gave him a tremendous ride, very patient,” Lynch said. “I thought with the suicide fractions going down the backside, where he was he was in great position. When they started to panic at the quarter pole, and they were all throwing leather and trying to shake loose, he was still sitting. When I saw that red cap come into play, I felt really good about it. When he got to the outside and found his stride, he was every bit the winner.”
Conquest Boogaloo, the third-place finisher, found trouble for the third consecutive race. A slow break and then an abrupt stop 300 yards from the gate ended his hopes before he passed the grandstand for the first time. He finished strong, completing the trifecta, leaving his jockey and trainer wondering what might have been.
Jockey Alan Garcia was disappointed that once again, his horse found trouble. “He broke a little slow and it took me out of the race. I had to check early and lost a lot of momentum then,” said Garcia.
Boogaloo trainer Mark Casse was despondent after the race.
“We got wiped out at the start,” Casse said. “I mean, this horse has no luck whatsoever, unless it’s bad luck. Not only does he get away bad, he gets bothered and then he comes with a big run wide. What a nice horse he is, though.”
The $500,000 Prince of Wales in recent years hasn’t had the privilege of hosting the Plate winner due to the fact that the race is run on dirt as opposed the Polytrack at Woodbine. This year could be different as trainer Brian Lynch more than hinted at taking a shot at Canada’s Triple Crown.
The decision to skip the Plate Trial and rest Shaman Ghost the seven weeks leading up to the Queen’s Plate could be the difference in collecting a Canadian Triple Crown, last captured in 2003 by Wando.
“You always hope you have a Triple Crown candidate and I was hoping we could have a fresh horse for the Plate,” Lynch said. “We have a fresh tank for the Prince of Wales and on to the Breeders.”
Shaman Ghost has the stamina and knows how to find the wire, completing his fourth straight victory. His presence at Fort Erie will be great for the border oval and based on his stamina and will to win, he has the goods to replicate American Pharoah’s feat, Canadian-style.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.