07/05/2008 12:00AM

Local longshot Presious Passion holds on


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The winner's circle was of full hugs and kisses after two of Monmouth Park’s own, Presious Passion and trainer Mary Hartmann, upset the track’s premier grass race Saturday, the Grade 1, $750,000 United Nations Stakes.

It was a feel-good outcome, and the biggest career win for both horse and trainer.

Hartmann, 55, has been part of the Monmouth scene for over 20 years. The long-time assistant to J.J. Crupi until his retirement in 1997, Hartmann had trouble in the days before the race expressing what a U.N. win would mean.

Savoring her first Grade 1 win, Hartmann described the feeling as “very shaky, very trembly. Everybody is here, my friends, my family. It’s absolutely unbelievable.”

Fortunately, jockey Eddie Castro was cool and collected, guiding the 5-year-old gelding to a pacesetting victory. They set a sensible pace in the 1 3/8-mile race on the yielding course and the 13-1 shot held on for a neck victory over Strike a Deal with Equitable third.

“I got the lead pretty easily and I didn’t have to use too much horse,” Castro said. “At the three-eighths pole, I just let him go and he kept going.”

Hartmann was hoping Presious Passion would scoot a little quicker.

“I was saying go a little faster, open up a little bit and make them run to catch him,” Hartmann said. “He had a lot of kick left.”

Strike a Deal took the most serious run at the pacesetter.

“When I asked my horse to run, he gave me a big kick,” said jockey Jose Lezcano.

The time was 2:13.88 for the 1 3/8 miles.

Independent George was fourth followed by Buddy’s Humor, even-money favorite Champs Elysees, Ra Der Dean, and Crown Point.

Trainer Bobby Frankel entered two horses in the U.N. but scratched Sudan. He still had a strong hand with the well-bred Champs Elysees, who never got into the flow.

“The horse felt awesome and I feel we had a pretty good trip,” said jockey Ramon Dominguez. “The only thing that hurt our chances was the slow early pace. We waited for the early front-runners to come back to us but they just kept going.”

The United Nations and the Salvator Mile earlier on the card launched the road to the Breeders’ Cup as the first Breeders’ Cup Challenge Win and You’re In races.

The two upsets were a validation of the concept that longshots can get to the season-ending championships as the Presious Passion ($29.60) and Salvator winner Notional are both headed to Santa Anita in October. Presious Passion earned an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.