Jerkens Enjoying the Ride with Xpressbet Pimlico Special (G3) Favorite Shaman Ghost

Jerkens Enjoying the Ride with Xpressbet Pimlico Special (G3) Favorite Shaman Ghost
On Leave Kicks Off 2017 in Stella Artois Gallorette (G3), Tops Tough McGaughey Stakes Trio
Asmussen Well-Represented in Preakness Weekend Stakes
Return to Maryland Special for Former Trainer Kelly
Grade 1 Winner Ring Weekend Raring to Go for Motion in Longines Dixie (G2)
BALTIMORE – Whether working for his late Hall of Fame father, Allen, or since going out on his own now 20 years ago, trainer Jimmy Jerkens has been around good horses all his life. He’s confident his current stable star will wind up shining brightest of all.
Stronach Stable’s multiple Grade 1 winner Shaman Ghost is the 4-5 morning-line favorite among 10 older horses set to gather for Friday’s $300,000 Xpressbet Pimlico Special (G3), the richest of seven stakes, four graded, on the Black-Eyed Susan Day program at historic Pimlico Race Course.
Jerkens’ long list of stakes winners includes millionaires Effinex, Artie Schiller, Wicked Strong, Corinthian and V.E. Day – all Grade 1 winners. Shaman Ghost’s $3,539,311 is the highest earner of any horse Jerkens has trained, towering above his Pimlico Special rivals. Defending champion Noble Bird is next at $1.3 million.
With Jerkens Shaman Ghost has three wins, a second and two thirds from seven starts with $2,851 million in purse earnings. His victories include the Woodward (G1) and Brooklyn (G2) last year and Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 11 in his last start.
“He’s up there, no question, with what he’s done the last couple years,” Jerkens said. “Artie Schiller on the turf was very good for a couple years and Wicked Strong developed into a nice horse. This guy, especially if he goes on and finishes out the year good, he’ll probably be the best one.”
Shaman Ghost came to Jerkens after a sophomore campaign during which he won the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby (G1), and lost the second leg of its Triple Crown series by a neck in the Prince of Wales. Subsequent ankle surgery ended his season but he was voted the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top 3-year-old male.
“I don’t know if he’ll run next year or not. I guess it depends on soundness issues and all that kind of stuff. Knock on wood, everything’s good,” Jerkens said. “I don’t really anticipate any problems but you always have to stay guarded when you have horses that run as hard as that. And, he trains very hard, too. He’s never run good races without training very hard, so we didn’t want to change that part of it.”
In company with Stronach-owned stablemate Flying Bullet, Shaman Ghost tuned up for the Pimlico Special with a bullet five-furlong move in 59 seconds May 10 over a Belmont Park training track that surprised even his trainer.
“That training track hasn’t been yielding fast times for quite a while, but that particular day it was after the second break and it had just the right amount of water on it to make it nice and bouncy and the horses were getting over it,” Jerkens said. “It really stood out because – they did have a couple of fast works that day, one out of the gate was fast – surrounding that day the times were slow. Depending on how you look at it, it could really look like a super work.
“[Flying Bullet] didn’t offer much, I just wanted [Shaman Ghost] to have a target to make sure he worked good. Every once in a while when he’s by himself he’ll loaf a little bit and I thought the track was kind of slow, and that’s when they really loaf,” he added. “We didn’t have any time to spare so I wanted to make sure he worked good by having a workmate. Of course, he blew his doors off. It’s always nice to see. You’re always a lot more confident when they work good than when they don’t. Some horses can fool you; they can run good off a bad work or they just know the difference.”
Shaman Ghost, a  5-year-old bay son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper, didn’t debut until late fall of his 2-year-old season and his first win didn’t come until late spring as a 3-year-old, the first of four straight victories that culminated in the Queen’s Plate. He will be ridden in the Pimlico Special from Post 5 by Hall of Famer-elect Javier Castellano.
“People are realizing that Ghostzapper is a good stallion. His horses develop in time and that’s what you want,” Jerkens said. “It seems like it takes them a while to get their [act] together but once they do they like it and they’re competitive and they show good quality, just like he was. We all know they don’t always pass it on but he’s become one of the premiere stallions now.”
On Leave Kicks Off 2017 in Stella Artois Gallorette (G3), Tops Tough McGaughey Stakes Trio
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is shipping a trio of talented stakes horses down from New York to Pimlico for its graded stakes-laden Preakness weekend, led by talented 4-year-old turf filly On Leave in the $150,000 Stella Artois Gallorette (G3). He also brings Grade 3-winning dirt mare Carrumba for the $150,000 Allaire DuPont Distaff (G3), as well as late-blooming turf horse Security Risk, who steps up in the $250,000 Longines Dixie Stakes (G2).
Stuart S. Janney, III’s homebred On Leave will look to duplicate the brilliance of half-brother Ironicus — smashing winner of the 2015 Dixie — when the strikingly similar-looking gray filly goes to post in the Dixie’s filly equivalent. Unraced since a solid 2016 campaign that saw her win four of five, including a tour-de-force in the Sands Point (G2) at Belmont Park in September, the daughter of War Front was last seen finishing a wide fourth in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) Oct. 15 at Keeneland.
“She’s had a bit of a layoff, but she’s training very well,” McGaughey said. “We’re looking forward to getting her started.”
On Leave was originally slated to commence her campaign in last weekend’s Beaugay Stakes (G3) at Belmont, but was rerouted to Baltimore.
“With a first race back, we really didn’t want to run her on soft turf the other day,” McGaughey said. “I expect her to run well.”
Expectations have long been high for 5-year-old mare Carrumba. By Bernardini out of a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Dancing Forever, the Phipps Stable homebred had delivered consistently throughout her first 10 races, finishing first or second nine times and third in her lone G1 attempt, the Ogden Phipps last June at Belmont.
Off from July, when third in the Shuvee Handicap (G3) behind Eclipse Award finalist Curalina, until April 9, Carrumba has raced twice in graded sprints and has yet to show the brilliance of her past form. A change in equipment and jockey, as well as a return to two turns, will be in order for the gray mare when she lines up in Post 6 of eight in Friday’s DuPont.
“We thought that the blinkers would help her to focus and to lay a little closer,” McGaughey said. “We have trained her in them and she seems to have focused better. She worked really well in them the other day, so we’re going to give it a whirl. Off two sprints and adding blinkers, I think she’ll be laying up close.”
Carrumba worked five furlongs in the mud at Belmont May 14 in 1:00.60. A winner of four of 12, she receives the first-time services of reigning Eclipse champion jockey Javier Castellano. She had been ridden in her first 10 starts by Jose Ortiz and in her last two by John Velazquez and Tyler Gaffalione, respectively. Her best efforts to date have been a half-length victory in the 2016 Top Flight Invitational Handicap (G3) and her third in the Phipps, in which she was beaten a half-length for second by one of the top fillies in training, multiple Grade 1 winner Forever Unbridled.
Security Risk may be the longest shot of McGaughey’s trio but enters the Dixie off a gate-to-wire victory from Post 11 in Keeneland allowance company April 19 at the Dixie’s 1 1/16-mile distance. A son and grandson of champions Smuggler and Inside Information, the well-intended bay horse makes his 15th career start and third of 2017. He was second by a head in his debut to Grade 2-placed Jay Gatsby March 10 at Gulfstream Park to kick off his campaign.
“He ran great in a three-other-than at Keeneland and I think it’s time to give him a chance,” McGaughey said. “His two races this year have been good. In his Gulfstream Park race, he was beat right on the money by Jay Gatsby and last time he broke from an outside post, ran quick fractions and still won. He’s trained very well since then, so we’re going to take a shot.” 
Asmussen Well-Represented in Preakness Weekend Stakes
Steve Asmussen brings the Kentucky Derby tandem of runner-up Lookin At Lee and 11th-place finisher Hence to Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1), but the 2016 Hall of Fame inductee’s stable will also be well-represented in other stakes Friday and Saturday.
It starts with Terra Promessa in Friday’s DuPont Distaff for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles. Stonestreet Stables’ 4-year-old filly is a daughter of its 2007 Preakness winner, two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Curlin, also trained by Asmussen.
In her last start, Terra Promessa was a grudging second in Oaklawn Park’s Apple Blossom (G1) to 2015 3-year-old champion Stellar Wind, who last year twice beat the vaunted Beholder. That effort and her six-for-11 record makes Terra Promessa the 6-5 program favorite and 124-pound highweight, two to six pounds more than her seven rivals.
“She’s coming off a huge effort to Stellar Wind in the Apple Blossom,” Asmussen said. “I’m a little concerned with how much weight she gives in the race. But that’s what success will do to you, with her having a couple of graded victories this year already.”
Vertical Oak, coming in off a stakes win in Iowa, is part of an overflow field for the $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs – a race that shapes up as deep and contentious as any stakes of the weekend.
“It’s worthy of its grading, obviously,” Asmussen said. “But she’s a very fast filly who is coming off her best lifetime race.”
Chanteline is the 7-2 second choice in Friday’s $100,000 Skipat for filly and mare sprinters. She won an Oaklawn allowance race before finishing second in the Carousel. Chanteline will be putting her speed up against the favored Clipthecouponannie, winner of four straight before finishing a good third in Aqueduct’s Distaff Handicap (G3) at seven furlongs.
“Chanteline in the Skipat is coming off two very impressive races for herself,” Asmussen said. “We think the timing is good, and we’re excited about that.”
The stable also has Grand Candy in the $100,000 Maker’s Mark Jim McKay Turf Sprint at five furlongs on turf. “He’s always competitive,” Asmussen said.
Holy Boss, winner of the Maker’s Mark Chick Lang two years ago at Pimlico, returns in Saturday’s $150,000 Maryland Sprint (G3) at six furlongs. The 5-year-old won the Fair Grounds' Duncan F. Kenner Stakes before losing twice to the sky-rocketing Whitmore, who also is in the Maryland Sprint. “We love how he’s training right now,” Asmussen said.
Resiliency, in Saturday's  $100,000 LARC Sir Barton to benefit the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, won a Fair Grounds allowance race but then had a hind leg stepped on by a horse behind him in Keeneland’s Lexington (G3), losing by 52 lengths. “I think we’re over that,” Asmussen said.
Total Tap runs in Saturday’s $100,000 James W. Murphy for 3-year-olds on turf.
Return to Maryland Special for Former Trainer Kelly
As a member of Team Gunnevera, former trainer Larry Kelly has relished the opportunity this week to reminisce about his late father, Hall of Fame conditioner T. J. Kelly, who grew up in Pikesville, Md, nearby Pimlico.
As a kid, Kelly, who died at the age of 93 in 2013, would scale the fence to gain access to the Pimlico backstretch, accompanied by his brother, Eddie. Soon enough, someone took notice and gave each of the teenagers a lead shank with a horse on the other end. The rest is history as both T. J. and Eddie went on to long and distinguished training careers.
“The quickest way to the Maryland Country Club, where my dad was a caddy, was to jump the fence at Pimlico,” Kelly said. “He and my uncle were put to work as hotwalkers. Their father died young and they had to support the family.”
The 59-year-old Kelly, who makes his home in Deerfield Beach, Fla., started his own horse transport business after the conclusion of his training career in 2000. During the course of the last few years, he has transported many horses conditioned by the South Florida-based Antonio Sano, Gunnevera’s trainer. When the colt was a 2-year-old and journeyed to New York for the Saratoga Special (G2) last August, Kelly was at the wheel.
“Just a half a day on the road, I could tell he was a special horse,” Kelly said Tuesday morning as he watched Gunnevera, who would win the Saratoga Special, train. “He was confident and had a good look in his eyes.”
Ever since the Saratoga sojourn, Kelly has acted as a stable representative for Sano when Gunnevera is on the road. It’s a role that Kelly says he has played in the past for other trainers when their horses race out of town.
“It’s been talked about that I’m a consultant, but I don’t think it is as much as that as being familiar with the different tracks, which, in some cases, trainers might not be. Track surfaces, vets, places to stay — everything that is included in a move — I help with,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s father saddled six Preakness starters, with his best finish coming with the runner-up in 1961, Globemaster.
“I was here in 1980 when Colonel Moran was third for Pop,” Kelly said. “I think about that a lot. Even though he ran in Pop’s name, I had him in New York with me that winter when Pop had Plugged Nickle in Florida. It’s great to remember those times.”
Grade 1 Winner Ring Weekend Raring to Go for Motion in Longines Dixie (G2)
Trainer Graham Motion is no stranger to taking graded turf stakes in Maryland — or anywhere for that matter — and appears to hold a solid hand this weekend at Pimlico, led by St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds G1-winning turf star Ring Weekend, who tries to improve upon a neck runner-up finish in last year’s Dixie.
Since that effort, the 6-year-old gelded son of Tapit has eight starts and a pair of Grade 2 wins. Wintering in California after finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G2), he took the Seabiscuit Handicap (G2) in late November before a trio of off-the-board, albeit unlucky performances. Last out, he was off slowly before running fourth, beaten less than two lengths, in the Frank Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita March 11 after finishing fourth in the Arcadia (G2) in his previous start.
“He is a barn favorite and it’s been a frustrating campaign for him this winter,” Motion said. “One of his races came off the turf and was a disappointing result. I thought the last two fourth-place finishes were better than they look on paper. He wasn’t beaten much at all and those were good efforts. I thought he maybe could have been closer.
“People may think he’s lost an edge in his form, but that’s not the case,” Motion added. “We decided to freshen him up for this race. He’s an honest and lovely horse and was unlucky in this race last year, to be honest. It was really soft and he does prefer it a little more firm. I feel very good about him and excited to run him.”
Ring Weekend, fifth in the 2014 Preakness, has seven wins from 23 starts during carefully managed career. An on-the-board finish pushes his career bankroll over the $1.5 million mark.
Though with appropriately less fervor, but confidence nonetheless, Motion spoke to the prospects of Bjorn Nielsen’s Danilovna, who steps back into graded company in the $150,000 Stella Artois Gallorette (G3) earlier Saturday afternoon. Making what will be her eighth lifetime start and fifth for Motion after commencing her career in England, the daughter of Dansili won the local prep, the Dahlia at Laurel Park Apr. 22. It was her first start since an off-the-board finish in Aqueduct’s Winter Memories Nov. 25. In her lone graded try, she was an unlucky second by a nose second in Santa Anita’s Autumn Miss Oct. 29. 
“My only nervousness with her is coming back in a month off such a good performance, but I thought she won quite comfortably that day,” Motion said. “I don’t think that spot was that easy, either, but it’s obviously a big step up for her. I expect her to run well.”