OCEANPORT – For a deep closer like Kentucky Ghost, it was the perfect set-up: The fast early fractions in the $106,000 Cliff Hanger Stakes at Monmouth Park on May 28 provided all the assistance he needed for a breakthrough performance.
With full momentum while swinging five-wide coming out of the final turn, Kentucky Ghost collared pacesetter Winfromwithin at the sixteenth pole before surging to a half-length victory, his first against stakes competition, according to a press release.
The winning time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth over a turf course rated “good” was 1:40.44.
“We got the early pace he needs,” said trainer Vickie Oliver. “He’s a late-closing horse. It was a good set-up for him. He can close in on anything. He has such a big turn of foot and such a big heart. But whenever you get those fast early fractions you always feel a little better about him closing into them.
“The horse that was in front (Winfromwithin) dug in gamely, but our horse is a pretty game horse.”
Jockey Jorge A. Vargas Jr. said he felt better about his chances after seeing the opening six furlongs go in 1:09.97, with the mile reached in 1:34.42.
Kentucky Ghost, a gelded 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper, was last after a half in the nine-horse field and was still sixth after three-quarters of a mile.
“I knew they were going fast early. My horse was running and we were pretty far behind the leaders,” said Vargas. “But he was throwing in good licks. So I felt good about him, even though he was far back. So when it was fast I was happy. I was a little worried about the turf, which I thought was a little quick. I didn’t want to give myself that much to do, but that’s the way it worked out.
“When he got running he really got running. I was trying to keep him away from horses because he can come in a little bit. So I wanted to give myself a little room so I didn’t take his momentum away. It worked out good.”
Kentucky Ghost, owned by B B N Racing LLC, returned $14.20 to win. Winfromwithin finished one-and-one-quarter lengths ahead of Analyze It in third after dueling for the opening six furlongs with Mid Day Image.
Kentucky Ghost had three second place finishes in stakes company last year, but had yet to win a stakes race. In his seasonal debut on May 7 in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs he was pulled up and vanned off.
He now has a 4-7-2 line from 21 career starts.
“He’s had a few misses in stakes races, but he’s always consistent and he is always right there except for the last race, which I don’t really have any answers for that other than he just didn’t take to the turf course that day,” said Oliver. “Hopefully moving forward we can get a couple of more stakes wins over the summer.”