08/12/2006 12:00AM

War Front gets over hump with Vanderbilt victory

War Front wins the Grade 2, $200,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap by 2 1/2-lengths at Saratoga on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - After three consecutive runner-up finishes in graded stakes, War Front shed his bridesmaid label Saturday, taking command of the Grade 2, $200,000 approaching the quarter pole and drawing clear to a 2 1/2-length victory over Judiths Wild Rush at Saratoga.

Mass Media, last year's Forego winner, checked in third, followed by Afrashad, Bishop Court Hill, and Thunder Touch.

It was the third victory in this race for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, who won the Vanderbilt in 1991 with Kid Russell and in 1998 with Kelly Kip.

War Front, a 4-year-old son of Danzig owned and bred by Joseph Allen, became the third graded stakes winner thrown by the mare Starry Dream. Ecclesiastic and Teammate are the other two.

War Front had finished second in the Mr. Prospector Handicap and Deputy Minister Handicap at Gulfstream during the winter. After a bruised foot sidelined him for four months, he returned with a second-place finish to Silver Train in the Grade 2 Tom Fool last month at Belmont.

Saturday, under Jose Santos, War Front stalked Afrashad and Bishop Court Hill through an opening quarter of 21.90 seconds. Afrashad chucked it after three furlongs, and War Front forged past Bishop Court Hill leaving the five-sixteenths pole. Turning for home, Santos shook War Front up, and he opened a three-length lead at the eighth pole. He was never seriously threatened from there, and ran the six furlongs in 1:10.21. He returned $5.50 as the favorite.

"Reading the Racing Form last night, I saw myself laying third," Santos said. "I didn't want to be too far off the pace, because those horses can hold their speed all the way around. I was surprised when [Afrashad] died so quickly, and I knew I had Bishop Court Hill, because I rode him before and he doesn't like to get pressure. Turning for home, I asked my horse, and he really kicked and he finished real well."

Jerkens said he was confident that War Front could rate off the pace.

"That always was, I thought, his best lick," Jerkens said. "I think the fact the track isn't lightning fast helped him."

Jerkens said War Front would most likely run back in the Grade 1, $250,000 Forego Handicap here on Sept. 2.