03/14/2008 11:00PM

Big Truck wins at Tampa; War Pass last

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Tom Cooley Photography
Big Truck beats Atoned by a neck in Saturday?s Tampa Bay Derby, as previously unbeaten War Pass tires badly to finish last as the 1-20 favorite.

OLDSMAR, Fla. - The often-bumpy road to the Kentucky Derby claimed another victim on Saturday after the previously undefeated division leader War Pass finished seventh and last in the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby before a record ontrack crowd of 12,746. Big Truck took advantage of the 1-20 favorite's disappointing performance to post a neck victory over Atoned in the Grade 3 event, which last winter served as a stepping-stone for Street Sense's eventual victory in the Kentucky Derby.

War Pass was in trouble right from the outset of the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby, when he was crowded by Make Me Zach leaving the starting gate. Jockey Cornelio Velasquez was able to guide War Pass into the clear just behind and outside the early leaders once settling down the backstretch. War Pass remained in contention for six furlongs but began to struggle midway around the second turn and then steadily dropped back. He was not pressed by Velasquez through the final furlong.

"He got into a good position in the backstretch, but when Cornelio asked him, nothing happened," said trainer Nick Zito before rushing back to the barn with War Pass.

"He had a little fever earlier this week, but we thought he'd be okay," said Robert LaPenta, the owner of War Pass. "He's a great horse, but he just wasn't himself today."

Velasquez said he was squeezed from the outside on both turns and felt War Pass just didn't handle the track.

"If he'd finished third or fourth, it would have been one thing, but he finished last," said Velasquez.

Big Truck was well placed by jockey Eibar Coa while kept within easy striking distance for five furlongs, angled four wide while commencing his rally into the stretch, and he gradually wore down Atoned in the final furlong. Atoned raced widest down the backstretch, took control while still in hand entering the stretch, but could not hold off the winner. Dynamic Wayne rallied from last to finish third, 4 1/2 lengths behind Atoned.

Big Truck, a son of Hook and Ladder, is trained by Barclay Tagg for owner Eric Fein. Big Truck had finished second behind War Pass's stablemate Fierce Wind in the Sam F. Davis Stakes here four weeks earlier. Big Truck covered the distance in 1:44.25 over a fast track. He paid $16.40 to win, but $25.20 to show with the overwhelming favorite off the board.

"Theoretically, you're not supposed to beat War Pass going a mile and one-sixteenth," said Tagg. "I told Eibar to ride for second money and if something happens to War Pass we'd win the race."