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Stronach Stables’ Shaman Ghost will look to garner his third straight stakes win and continue his stellar 5-year-old campaign as the headliner in a field of six entered for the Grade 2, $750,000 Suburban Handicap as part of Saturday’s Stars & Stripes Racing Festival at Belmont Park.
Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Shaman Ghost has registered triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last five races, including a personal-best 112 as the runner-up to Arrogate in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup to start his year on January 28.
After winning the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational on Belmont’s Big Sandy as a 4-year-old, Shaman Ghost is coming off back-to-back victories in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and the Grade 2 Pimlico Special Handicap on May 19, posting Figures of 108 and 106, respectively.
Shaman Ghost ran fifth in the 2016 Suburban, though Jerkens said that he is healthier entering this year’s edition.
“He had an excuse last time; he came up with a bad cough pretty close to the race and didn’t quite get over it,” Jerkens said.
With an 8-2-2 record in 16 career starts, Shaman Ghost has already amassed more than $3.7 million in career earnings. The champion Ontario-bred drew the outside post with jockey Javier Castellano, where he will look to stalk the expected pacesetter, Matt King Coal.
“It looks like he’s ready,” Jerkens said. “He’s got good races at Belmont. I wish there was something to run with (trainer) Linda (Rice)’s horse (Matt King Coal). It looks like he’ll be out there by himself, but we’ll just have to track along and hope we can run him down.”
Lady Sheila Stable’s Matt King Coal went gate-to-wire in the 1 1/8-mile Mountainview on June 3 at Penn National, recording a career-high 102 Beyer. It was his first time cracking triple digits in 10 career starts.
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#6 Shaman Ghost – It’s been fun watching this horse turn into one of the best older males in the country, and he keeps getting better with each race under his belt. He’s won two straight coming into this, including the Santa Anita Handicap two races back. His only loss this year came at the hands of Arrogate in the Pegasus, but there isn’t anything close to that in this field. The main worry will be a “loose on the lead” Matt King Coal, but Shaman Ghost did run down Midnight Storm in a similar situation to win the Santa Anita Handicap. He should make it three wins in a row here.
#2 Matt King Coal – From a pace standpoint, the connections of Matt King Coal have to love what they’re seeing in this field. He’s won three out of four races this year, including a nice stakes win at Penn National last time out. They’ll undoubtedly try to get him to the lead here and take the field wire to wire. He’s the only true speed horse in the race, so it will be interesting to see if some other horse changes style and tries to apply pressure on the front end. I think that Shaman Ghost is a better horse, but he better not let Matt King Coal get too far in front.
#1 Keen Ice – By now, we all know this guy’s game: take back early, make one run, and clunk up for the minor awards. Expect much of the same from him once again here. It’s incredible that his last win came in the 2015 Travers Stakes against the Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. This is a class drop compared to what he’s faced in his last four starts (including the 2016 Breeders Cup Classic, the Pegasus, and the Dubai World Cup), but second or third is still his limit.
#3 Sunny Ridge – At 15-1 morning line odds, this has to be a play underneath. He always seems to be around at the end and has improved compared to last year. He kicked off 2017 with a pair of nice stakes wins at Aqueduct (the Jazil and the Stymie), and last time out, he finished second in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap. Don’t consider him on top, but he’s a viable option underneath.
#5 Follow Me Crev – There is a little bit that I like about this horse, but the main thing that caught my eye was the fact that John Velazquez has signed on to ride. He’s been competitive in his last three graded stakes tries, finishing with two seconds and a third. Those second-place efforts each came against a Bob Baffert horse (the Grade 2 Californian and the Grade 1 Gold Cup), and let’s be honest, at this point, finishing second to a Bob Baffert handicapper is about as good as you can do. The only negative is the fact that Shaman Ghost beat him in the Santa Anita Handicap by 5 lengths. However, he is still a logical long shot in this race.
#4 Watershed – Two races back, this horse looked like he had put it all together (finally) when he won the Grade 3 Ben Ali, but last time out was a step backwards, as he was beaten 10 lengths by Shaman Ghost in the Pimlico Special. It’s getting harder and harder to back him in races as tough as this one.
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