Signature Victory

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Kent Sweezey accepted congratulations yet again from the woman holding the rope, funneling people into the winner’s circle. She’s been there all meet, always applauding, always congratulating – everybody. Upbeat, she congratulates owners, trainers, writers…if you’re well dressed and walking to the winner’s circle, you’re a winner to her.

“Finally, finally, finally,” said Sweezey, assistant trainer to Jimmy Jerkens. “I’ve been saying, ‘Nope, sorry. Nope, sorry. Nope, sorry,’ all meet.”

Not this time.

Shaman Ghost upset the Grade 1 Woodward, earning a close decision in a four-horse scrum at the end of 9 furlongs. Shaman Ghost and Javier Castellano won by a head over Mubtaahij, who had a head on 2-5 favorite Frosted, who had a head on Canadian shipper Breaking Lucky. Shaman Ghost finished 9 furlongs in 1:48.92.

Jerkens stopped in the winner’s circle as TV cameramen waited for their cue to go live and looked around, not necessarily stunned by the performance, but awed by the moment. 

“Wow,” Jerkens said. “Wow.”

Owned by Stronach Stable, the 4-year-old son of Ghostzapper captured his first Grade 1 stakes of his 12-race career. A four-time winner, including the Canadian classic Queen’s Plate, for Brian Lynch last year, the bay colt was transferred to Jerkens in December. He made his debut for Jerkens in May, finishing third in a three-other-than optional claimer before winning the Grade 2 Brooklyn going a mile and a half at Belmont Park in June. A month later, he ran evenly to finish fifth in the Grade 2 Suburban. Jerkens aimed at the Woodward, using the Oklahoma Training Track as the platform and Shaman Ghost delivered. 

“He loves to train, you can’t train him too hard,” Jerkens said. “He loves it, he loves it.” 

A 4-furlong breeze in :49.94 July 30 began the process, a 7-furlong drill in 1:28.44 came next and a sharp 4-furlong bullet in :48.83 convinced Jerkens to keep the Woodward as the target.

“We were going to run all along in this but two weeks ago, I called Mike Rogers up and said, I think we might skip it and go for a race at Belmont, I was trying to figure out how the best way to get him to the Jockey Club Gold Cup, I just thought I was going to run out of time,” Jerkens said of the call to Frank Stronach’s close advisor and president of The Stronach Group’s Racing and Gaming Division. “Mike said, ‘The boss wasn’t too crazy about that idea.’ A couple of days went by and I said, ‘All right, ‘let’s go to the Woodward.’ I didn’t know who we were going to get to ride him, we were lucky to get Javier. It’s incredible.”

To read the rest of the Woodward recap, download Sunday’s digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland Sales.