NEW YORK (AP) – The wait is over for Bobby Frankel. The Hall of Fame trainer believes he finally has the champion he’s always wanted.

And that would be Ghostzapper, the reigning Horse of the Year who cruised to a 6 1/4-length victory in the $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap on Monday in his first race in seven months.

Frankel has trained champions before, but none come close to Ghostzapper, a 5-year-old son of Awesome Again with a six-race winning streak and nine victories in 11 career starts.

“I know you dream of winning the Kentucky Derby,” said the 63-year-old Frankel, still seeking his first Derby win, “but the best dream is to know you have the best horse.”

In the winner’s circle at Belmont Park, Frankel talked about how he used to watch Secretariat and Spectacular Bid, hoping that one day he would train a special horse.

“I’m very emotional right now,” Frankel said. “He’s a great horse, let’s just put it that way. He’s an amazing horse.”

Ghostzapper, ridden by Javier Castellano, needed a few extra minutes to be loaded into the gate. But once the race began, Ghostzapper ran like a champion in front of a crowd of 15,066.

Castellano had Ghostzapper third behind Love of Money and Forest Danger. And when the field hit the turn, Ghostzapper moved between horses, took command at the top of the stretch and won easily over 35-1 long shot Silver Wagon.

“He did it pretty easy and he made me look good,” Castellano said.

Ghostzapper, the odds-on favorite, hasn’t lost since finishing third in the King’s Bishop at Saratoga on Aug. 23, 2003. Now 5-for-5 at Belmont, Ghostzapper earned $450,000 and boosted his bankroll to $3,446,120 for owner Frank Stronach.

Ghostzapper is just the fifth reigning Horse of the Year in 20 years to return to the races for a 5-year-old season. The others were Cigar, Ferdinand and two fillies, Azeri and Lady’s Secret. Only Cigar went on to repeat as Horse of the Year.

Ghostzapper’s seasonal debut was set for the Oaklawn Handicap last month, but the horse developed a sinus problem. A hole was drilled in Ghostzapper’s head to drain the sinus, and the horse also lost weight.

Before the race, also known as the Met Mile, Frankel said he was nervous, although he boasted that Ghostzapper was the “Horse of the World.”

“You just worry that he’s going to come back as the same horse,” Frankel said. “Obviously, he looks right now that he’s the same horse.”

The winning time was 1:33.29, just off the stakes record of 1:32.80 set by Honour and Glory in 1996. The time equaled the fourth fastest in the 112-year history of the Met Mile.

Ghostzapper paid $3.30, $2.50 and $2.10. Silver Wagon returned $9.90 and $2.60, and Sir Shackleton paid $2.50 to show. Pomeroy was fourth, followed by Forest Danger and Love of Money.

The versatile Ghostzapper won all four of his starts last year at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. He took the seven-furlong Tom Fool Handicap by 4 1/4 lengths on July 4, then won the 1 1/8-mile Iselin Handicap by 10 3/4 lengths on Aug. 21, the 1 1/8-mile Woodward Stakes by a neck on Sept. 11 and clinched Horse of the Year honors with a three-length win in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 30.

Asked if there’s anything Ghostzapper can’t do, Frankel said. “He’s probably the best sprinter in the country … and he’d run a mile-and-a-half over the grass if you asked him to.”

Frankel said plans call for Ghostzapper to remain in New York and run in the Suburban Handicap on July 2, followed by the Whitney on Aug. 6, the Woodward on Sept. 10 and then the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont on Oct. 29.

Frankel also credited Stronach with bringing back Ghostzapper when the owner could have retired him and made tens of millions of dollars in stallion fees.

“You guys really don’t give him (Stronach) a lot of credit because he (Ghostzapper) is a $40-$50 million horse and could generate $10-$15 million in stallion fees,” Frankel said. “He brought him back to the races, where he could make at best, what five or six million dollars? He took a bigger gamble that anyone else will ever take. If this was someone else, they would have retired him. He wanted to bring him back so the fans could watch him another year.”

AP-ES-05-30-05 1950EDT


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