01/26/2007 1:00AM

Invasor crowned two-continent champ


The rallying cry started in the summer with ESPN's Kenny Mayne. Having taken a shine to Invasor, Mayne, after referring to Invasor, would always - always - add, "He is the best."

Now, everyone must make the same acknowledgement. Invasor on Monday was named the 2006 Horse of the Year, as well as the champion older male.

Invasor reached that position with a perfect season in the United States, culminated by a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic against Bernardini and Lava Man, who at the time were considered the other leading contenders for Horse of the Year.

Invasor is now a champion on two continents. Before coming to this country at the end of 2005, he was the Horse of the Year in Uruguay, where he won all five of his starts, including that country's Triple Crown.

Invasor, an Argentine-bred son of Candy Stripes and the Argentine mare Quendom, arrived here in December 2005 after being purchased privately by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum's Shadwell Stable. At first, there was uncertainty over how good he really was because he had competed in Uruguay, whose racing is considered a cut below that of Argentina and Chile.

"We had more people tell us he might be a $10,000 claimer than a Grade 1 winner," Kiaran McLaughlin, who took over as Invasor's trainer when he was imported, told Daily Racing Form in May. "They thought he might have been running against really cheap horses; you just don't know. But the owner and the breeder were high on him, and I'm just fortunate Sheikh Hamdan bought him and sent him to me."

Invasor made his first start of the year in Dubai, where he finished fourth in the United Arab Emirates Derby. That race looked better in hindsight, though, because the winner was Discreet Cat, who went on to have an accomplished season in the U.S.

That was Invasor's only misstep on the track. In May, less than two months after returning from Dubai, he captured the Grade 1 Pimlico Special. Victories in the Suburban Handicap and Whitney Handicap, both Grade 1 races, soon followed.

"He's gone from Uruguay Horse of the Year to Horse of the Year in America," McLaughlin said after the Whitney.

Invasor still had to prove it, though, against a colt who had emerged as the nation's top 3-year-old, Bernardini, and California's best older horse, Lava Man.

First up was a scheduled showdown with Bernardini in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in October. But about nine days before the race, Invasor developed a temperature. Invasor was forced to train up to the Classic, racing for the first time in three months while facing Bernardini and Lava Man. Yet days before the race, McLaughlin expressed great confidence.

"He's doing fabulous. Never better," McLaughlin said. "Maybe missing the Gold Cup was a blessing. He's put weight on, he's training unbelievable. He's come on so much the last 90 days. Usually as a trainer you start to leak confidence getting closer to a race. You start inventing invisible excuses. But I'm gaining confidence as we get closer."

His confidence was not unfounded. Invasor rallied powerfully in the Classic to beat Bernardini by one length. The victory was the second major prize for McLaughin, Shadwell, and jockey Fernando Jara, who combined to take the Belmont Stakes in June with Jazil.

Invasor has remained in training this year. His first scheduled start is the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3.

* VOTING: Older Male - Invasor (ARG), 262; Lava Man, 8; Voter abstentions, 1. Horse of the Year - Invasor (ARG), 228; Barbaro, 21; Bernardini, 16; Lava Man, 3; Ouija Board (GB) 3. No abstentions.