Before the March 9 San Felipe Stakes in California, Hear the Ghost had raced only twice in his brief career.
He had never been around two turns. His earlier competition in winning a maiden race and then finishing a close-up second in his only other try wasn’t nearly the same caliber as Goldencents and Flashback, the two Derby hopefuls Hear the Ghost caught and passed in the stretch of the 1 1/16-miles San Felipe, a Grade II stakes.
Many of Ghostzapper’s sons and daughters are late bloomers. Hollendorfer knows full well that Ghostzapper’s most productive progeny have matured in the fall of their three-year-old campaign or even at four and five. And the best ones won at 10 furlongs or even farther.
Finding a just-turned-three-year-old that has only raced three times and already has a win over capable competition at more than a mile has Hollendorfer planning for a Kentucky Derby.
No one could blame the trainer with over 6,000 career wins if he were silently thinking his shiny resumé might be made more impressive by a first Kentucky Derby win.
The story could be even more fulfilling and riveting because Hear the Ghost’s jockey, Corey Nakatani, has never had a Kentucky Derby win in his 15 tries.
Hear the Ghost is a medium-sized gelding. His frame is only lightly muscled, but his fluid stride is a little longer than the average thoroughbred possesses.
His bright eyes and always-interested demeanor give him an attention-getting look even when grouped with more imposing physical specimens.
A small, white triangle covers some of the ruddy space between his expressive eyes.
He has been an attentive pupil to the instructions Hollendorfer gives him.
In the much-watched San Felipe Stakes, longshot Salutos Amigo sped away to a hustling, but comfortable, lead as the field wound through the clubhouse turn.
Prodding the 22-1 shot were both Goldencents and Flashback and they were about a length-and-a-half back.
As the backstretch pace moved along, both Goldencents and Flashback easily flowed past the faltering longshot.
Those betting favorites stayed 1-2 and only feet apart until mid-stretch. Hear the Ghost had been six lengths in back of the pair. But he chewed away at the lead until the two crowd choices had no more room ahead of him.
When Hear the Ghost rushed on by, he moved to a half-length lead himself and sailed past the finish line in going-away style.
When interviewed in the winner’s circle, the silver-haired Hollendorfer commented: “I got a lot of enjoyment out of buying this horse and racing him with my partner, Ted Aroney. We’ll find out about longer distances. That’s where we have to go next. I think we’ll stay at home for the Santa Anita Derby.
“I just told Corey to watch the pace and try to be tactical and not get caught down inside. I have a great deal of confidence in this guy. He can ride anything of mine.”
Even with Ghostzapper as his sire and Northern Dancer, Awesome Again, Coronado’s Quest, Deputy Minister, Relaunch, Forty Niner, the redoubtable Mr. Prospector, Damascus, In Reality and Chieftain in his accomplished line of genealogy, Hear the Ghost was bought at a Keeneland yearling sale for $40,000 by Hollendorfer.
His first race was at six furlongs and his second came a month later in the San Pedro Stakes where his stretch run just missed against Distinctiv Passion.
He came out of the San Felipe in good health and his win there had been achieved without a full-out grab for the wire.
His angular body could still fill out without compromising his stamina or the length of his stride.
Hollendorfer has Hear the Ghost stabled at Hollywood Park.
The trainer has the Santa Anita Derby in his sights and has recently reported the copper-colored gelding is in “very good health”.
The trainer has the most wins in Northern California history. But even though he’s won the Santa Anita Handicap, Arlington Oaks, Haskell Handicap, Coaching Club American Oaks and El Camino Real Derby, Hollendorfer has never saddled a Kentucky Derby winner.
Hear the Ghost should be still learning. He’s only raced three times.
If he shows enough in the Santa Anita Derby, and comes out of that race with every part still in its proper place, will he be sent to The Derby with only four lifetime races?
The lure of that race can be overpowering. And neither trainer Hollendorfer nor jockey Nakatani has ever won it.