by TERESA GENARO
On the biggest weekend in the year in Maryland racing, the man who owns both of the state’s Thoroughbred tracks won one of its most historic races, but as he walked with measured step and mostly impassive face to the winner’s circle at Pimlico, Frank Stronach maintained his usually understated demeanor.
“It’s nice,” he said. “Any time you win a graded race it’s nice.”
“Nice” might be a little mild to describe his homebred winner of the Pimlico Special (G3), who headed stablemate Dolphus, a half-brother to 2009 Preakness (G1) winner Rachel Alexandra, for a Jimmy Jerkens-trained exacta.
In 2014 Jerkens trained V.E. Day to an upset win in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga, beating second betting choice stablemate Wicked Strong by a head.
Dolphus set the pace and led gate to wire, with Shaman Ghost sitting well back of the leader until making his move in the stretch. Gamely digging in under Javier Castellano, the five-year-old son of Ghostzapper just got there at the wire win by a neck.
Since being turned over to Jerkens in 2016, Shaman Ghost has won four of eight starts, including the Brooklyn (G2), the Woodward (G1), and the Santa Anita H. (G1).
“His father was a great trainer,” observed Stronach, “and Jimmy went out on his own and did quite well. I spent some time with Jimmy and I think he’s just a great horseman.”
The win was the second in the race for Stronach, who won in 2000 with Golden Missile. In 1999, Jerkens finished sixth with Slate Mountain.
“It’s terrific to run 1-2 — that’s what we came down here for,” Jerkens said. “I remember coming here with Devil His Due [trained by his late father Allen] three years in a row and he won [in 1993]. It was always a big deal.
“It’s great to win for Mr. Stronach at his track.”
Perhaps a more apt adjective than the humble”“nice” used by Stronach, “great” suits Shaman Ghost’s performances while in Jerkens’ barn. And while Dolphus’ owner Dede McGehee might feel a little differently, having her horse miss out on a first graded stakes win by an agonizingly small margin, Jerkens used some pretty impressive adjectives to describe the runner-up.
“Dolphus had his own way…I thought he had a shot to hang on,” he said. “Shaman had a little too much for him, but Dolphus ran terrific.”