01/10/2008 1:00AM

Hopes high as War Pass works


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

War Pass took his first step on a journey trainer Nick Zito hopes will lead to his third Kentucky Derby victory shortly after dawn on Thursday when he worked an easy three furlongs in 37.17 seconds at the Palm Meadows training center.

Regular exercise rider Maxine Correa was aboard for the drill, making sure War Pass didn't overextend himself in his first official work since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile nearly 11 weeks earlier. The likely Eclipse Award winner broke off at the quarter pole and went in fractions of 12.60 and 24.41 before finishing around the turn at the seven eighths pole.

"I loved it," enthused Zito. "That was a gallop this morning. He could have done more. He's very athletic and kept himself fit since the Breeders' Cup. Right now my dream list for an itinerary to the Derby, if all goes well, would be to look for a mile race at Gulfstream in the middle of February, the Tampa Bay Derby or something else at a mile and a sixteenth the following month, and then the Wood."

Zito said he'd probably bring War Pass back to work a half-mile in about eight or nine days.

"I like to give them an extra couple of days after the first work, because it's been a while since he's used some of those muscles and it tends to take a little longer to recover from the first one," said Zito. "After that, he'll go on a regular weekly schedule right up to his first race."

War Pass was undefeated in four starts at 2, ending the year with convincing wire-to-wire wins in the Grade 1 Champagne and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

While War Pass will likely have his final Derby prep in the Wood Memorial in New York, Zito has a couple of other 3-year-old prospects, Fierce Wind and Aquarian, who could wind up heading toward the Grade 1 Florida Derby here on March 29. Fierce Wind, a son of Dixie Union, was an impressive 10-length maiden special weight winner at Calder, while Aquarian earned his diploma at Churchill Downs in their 2-year-old finales. Zito said he's looking for a first-level allowance race going 1 1/8 miles for both of them.

Zito also sent out his Grade 1 winner Commentator to work five furlongs in 59.58 seconds under Correa later Thursday morning.

Commentator was entered in Sunday's Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap but was scratched. The race would have been his first start since he finished seventh after breaking through the starting gate prior to the start of the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"He's a gallant old warrior, and I didn't want to start him out against a horse like Chatain in the Hal's Hope," Zito said. "He still has a lot of miles left in him since he hasn't run a lot of races in his career. And he's a New York-bred so there's lots to look forward to this year."

Phantom Income to Sunshine Millions

Phantom Income, who also has been idle since finishing far back on Breeders' Cup Day, worked at Palm Meadows on Thursday, going five furlongs in 1:00.80 under the watchful eye of trainer Rick Violette. Phantom Income, runaway winner of the NATC Futurity at 2, stopped badly over the muddy going at Monmouth Park in the Juvenile Fillies.

"I nominated her for the Old Hat on Saturday but decided to skip the race to wait for the Sunshine Millions Oaks, which is here this year," said Violette. "I gave her some time off after the Breeders' Cup, and the timing of the Sunshine Millions is better than the Old Hat. And the purse is bigger."

Violette also said that his multiple Grade 1 winner Dream Rush, one of the three finalists for an Eclipse Award in the filly and mare sprint division, returned to his barn at Palm Meadows this week.

"She galloped this morning for the first time and looks great," said Violette, who has nothing picked out for Dream Rush's 2008 debut.

Grade 1 winner Lear's Princess is also back to serious training at Palm Meadows. The daughter of Lear Fan, a winner of the Grade 1 Gazelle and runner-up in two other Grade 1 races at 3, has not started since finishing 10th in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

"She looks fabulous and is doing great," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "She'll have her first work soon. Maybe this weekend. Right now the obvious goal would be the Rampart [March 9], but she could also possibly wind up back on the turf. Unfortunately, there's nothing really here for her on grass, so if that's the case she would probably run over at Tampa."