Jerry Hollendorfer liked what he was seeing on the track. Even-money favorite Flashback and Goldencents were going at it on the lead in the San Felipe Stakes, while the Hall of Fame trainer’s horse Hear the Ghost was running mid-pack.
Hear the Ghost rallied to run down Flashback and Goldencents in the stretch and win the $300,000 race by a half-length at Santa Anita on Saturday, inserting himself into the Kentucky Derby picture.
”I thought this horse would have a very good chance to run them down,” Hollendorfer said. ”I thought that all day long. I thought they would put up a pretty good pace.”
Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Hear the Ghost covered 1-1/16 miles in 1 minute, 42.34 seconds and paid $13.80 at 5-1 odds in the field of eight 3-year-olds.
”I just told Corey to watch the pace and try to be tactical and not get caught down inside,” Hollendorfer said. ”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.”
Flashback, the even-money favorite trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, held on for second. Tiz a Minister was another half-length back in third. Goldencents, the 2-1 second choice trained by Doug O’Neill, was fourth after being on the lead.
Hear the Ghost came charging down the middle of the track to overtake the tiring duo of Flashback and Goldencents, who clocked fast fractions as they hooked up approaching the stretch turn.
”It turned into a match race down the backside,” Baffert said.
Julien Leparoux aboard Flashback said his colt wouldn’t do what he wanted him to, while Kevin Krigger on Goldencents criticized Leparoux’s ride.
”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,” Krigger said. ”If we’re going that fast easily, it’s understandable, but to pressure a race like that . . . being on a favorite, that’s not a favorite’s ride at all.”
Flashback and Goldencents came into the race as the top two Derby prospects on the West Coast. Flashback, a gray colt in just his third career race, won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 6-1/4 lengths last month.
Goldencents won the Sham Stakes in January, making him 3 of 4.
They engaged in the sizzling pace initially set by Salutos Amigos, and then taken over by Goldencents. The opening quarter was clocked at 22.97 seconds and the half-mile in 45.95.
”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,” Baffert said. ”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.”
O’Neill, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year with I’ll Have Another, expected Salutos Amigos on the lead.
”I was shocked that Flashback was so close up,” he said. ”I thought he’d be a little farther back. I’m sure they’ve got to make adjustments, and we have to make adjustments. We’ll be all right.”
O’Neill said he would point Goldencents to the 1-1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby on April 6. Hollendorfer said it’s likely Hear the Ghost will run, too.
Kentucky-bred gelding Hear the Ghost is lightly raced, with only three starts on his record. He won his career debut by 3-1/4 lengths going six furlongs on Betfair Hollywood Park’s synthetic surface in December. Hollendorfer said he was gelded sometime after his career debut because ”he was very difficult to handle.”
The son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper finished second over the same distance in the $75,000 San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 21.
Hear the Ghost earned 50 points for the victory under the Kentucky Derby eligibility system established by Churchill Downs to determine the 20-horse field for the May 4 race.
”We’re allowed to be on the trail, so we’ll see about that,” Hollendorfer said.
Hollendorfer switched jockeys for the San Felipe, going from Juan Hernandez to Nakatani. Hollendorfer co-owns the gelding with partner Ted Aroney, who races as Halo Farms.
”He’s gotten better each time that I’ve been able to do something with him,” Nakatani said. ”He gets in that high cruising speed, and he just kind of cruises along. You don’t have to ask him; you don’t have to even move on him.”
Hear the Ghost was stretching out in the San Felipe while trying two turns for the first time, but he ran true to form, having come from off the pace in both of his previous starts. Hollendorfer had put six workouts into the gelding at Betfair Hollywood Park since his last start.
Salutos Amigos was fifth, followed by Carving, Omega Star and Kochees. Carving is co-owned by Olympic skier Bode Miller, who was on hand, and Baffert’s wife, Jill.
In the $77,870 China Doll Stakes, Birdlover and Edwin Maldonado won by 1-1/2 lengths over Magnificent Shirl.
Britian-bred Birdlover ran one mile on the turf in 1:35.23 and paid $22.80 to win. Akiss Forarose was third.