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Southern Phantom: The white-faced horse who's the talk of the racecourse

His career as a racehorse has barely begun, yet according to his trainer people are already lining up for a ...

Posted: Sep. 7, 2018 12:48 PM
Updated: Sep. 7, 2018 12:48 PM

His career as a racehorse has barely begun, yet according to his trainer people are already lining up for a chance to use Southern Phantom as a stud.

The two-year-old colt hasn't even won any of the three races he's run, but he's already got the popularity of a horse that's won a triple crown -- and it's all because of his unique look.

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The social media star boasts a unique coat -- a bay-colored body with a face that looks like it's been dipped in a bucket of white paint. Southern Phantom also has mismatched blue and brown eyes, a balayage tail that feathers out to blonde and white knee-high socks.

"Most beautiful and unusual (horse) I have ever seen," fans write on the colt's Facebook page.

"I have never seen a thoroughbred with these markings," another writes. "Absolute highlight of my visit to Saratoga (Race Course) this year."

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The horse becomes the talk of the racecourse whenever he makes an appearance.

"He gets his picture taken daily. I'm kind of getting a little upset with it because I'm used to the camera's being on me," Southern Phantom's colorful trainer, Eric Guillot tells CNN Sport.

Phantom of the Opera

It seems Southern Phantom was destined for fame, especially after gaining so much popularity the moment he was born.

At the time, Guillot got in touch with a friend at Bloodhorse Magazine, who then came up with the idea of holding a naming contest for the foal.

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"I was the guy who had to look through them all!" Guillot says. "We were going to let it run for a couple of weeks but it was so popular. We had 2,800 entries in four days so I said 'hey, hey, put a halt to this thing so I can pick a name!'"

"I didn't want to have to look through 10,000 names," he adds.

Guillot chose Southern Phantom given its a mash-up of his stable name, Southern Equine Stables, and a fitting tribute to the white mask from the musical, Phantom of the Opera.

"There were 2,799 haters because we didn't use their name," Guillot laughs.

'We've got to put suncream on his face'

Though with Southern Phantom's pure white markings, comes sensitive skin -- he even has to wear suncream.

"His skin's very sensitive with all the white and the pigment is a really pronounced pink," explains Guillot.

"When he's out in the paddock you've got to put suncream on his face. Even the grain mix makes his nose really pink, so you have to wash it off every day," the trainer says.

Guillot says during his entire career as a trainer he's never seen a thoroughbred as unique as Southern Phantom.

"I'd seen Jack Van Berg in the early 90s with Tri Chrome which the body had a lot of white, like a paint horse, but never the uniqueness of a total white head horse with two different colored eyes and that much white on its belly and tail."

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Guillot's not quite sure where his horse's splashed white pattern came from.

Southern Phantom's sire is Bodemeister -- the Bob Baffert-trained horse who won the 2012 Arkansas Derby and placed second at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes the same year. And his dam, Out For Revenge, was sired by 2005 Preakness Stakes champion, Bernardini. All three horses were bays, with Bodemeister having a white blaze on his face.

Mutation?

"The short answer to why is his coat like that, there is likely a mutation in one or more of the genes involved in pigmentation," professor and director of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at UC Davis, Rebecca Bellone tells CNN.

"There are several hundred genes that have been described in mammals to be involved in pigmentation," she says, adding it's impossible to tell by simply looking at the horse.

Bellone says it's not unusual for a horse to have one blue and one brown eye if they have "extensive face markings".

"Typical of other horses, on Southern Phantom the side of the face with the blue eye has more white than that with the brown eye," she notes.

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While Bellone doesn't find Southern Phantom's markings rare, she says they may be considered rare in thoroughbreds.

"What is interesting to me as a geneticist is the fact that the horses in his pedigree do not display a lot of white face and leg markings," she says.

"I would love to know what the change or changes are in the DNA that caused his beautiful pattern."

According to the Weatherbys General Stud Book, bay is the most prevalent color in thoroughbred foals -- though coats can change as the horse matures.

"A brown foal may mature to gray if the sire and/or dam is gray" it notes.

'He's not a boogeyman'

While the words "freaky," "scary" and "creepy" have been thrown about at the racecourse when Southern Phantom walks by, Guillot is quick to dismiss them.

"He's not a boogeyman, he's not going to bite -- a lot of people find life kind of frightening!

"He's very friendly, he's very people orientated," he adds.

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In true Guillot style, when Southern Phantom shot to fame he stuck a board outside the stall which advertized selfies with the colt for a set fee -- depending on your gender, and appearance.

"I was just teasing," he laughs. "That's probably the most money I'd ever make if I charged $5 for a selfie!"

Superstar or not?

As for Southern Phantom's racing career, Guillot is staying relaxed.

"I think he's going to be all right. He's getting better," he says. "I don't know if he's a superstar, but he's gonna be OK."

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So far, the best Southern Phantom has placed is third during his second race at Saratoga Race Course. He finished fifth during both his debut and on September 3 after a slow break.

Though Guillot knows what it'll mean for business should he win.

"If he happens to win the right race, he's going to be a phenomenal stud because he'll get 100 mares just from the popularity of his market," he says.

While Guillot can't put a price on what Southern Phantom could charge, he knows one thing for sure -- there's demand.

"I've got a line a mile long of people who want him afterward."

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