02/09/2008 12:00AM

War Pass avoids trouble in workout

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The racetrack at the Palm Meadows training center was all but deserted when War Pass came out to work several minutes after sunrise on Saturday. Yet despite War Pass having the course nearly all to himself, trainer Nick Zito had a few anxious moments while watching his colt complete what should be his next-to-last work in preparation for his much anticipated 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream Park later this month.

As luck would have it, the only other horse in sight when War Pass broke off at the half-mile pole happened to be galloping a couple of hundred yards in front of him while hugging the inner rail, a place traditionally reserved only for workers. Luckily, exercise rider Maxine Correa spotted the unexpected company as she headed into the turn and was able to steer War Pass around the slower moving intruder while telling the rider in no uncertain terms that he was in the wrong place at the worst possible time as she buzzed by.

Much to the delight and relief of his trainer, War Pass completed his work without further incident, breezing a half-mile in 47.60 seconds before galloping out five-eighths in 1:00.60.

"You never know what might happen in this business," said Zito as War Pass pulled up on the backstretch. "There was only one other horse out there with us and it forced Maxine to alter her course. The work could have been ruined, although fortunately things turned out just fine."

Zito said he intentionally planned to give War Pass a slower work on Saturday after his undefeated star drilled a half in 46 and change the previous week. If all goes according to plan, War Pass will launch his campaign in a $60,000 allowance race carded at a mile here on Feb. 23 with the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial penciled in as his final two preps before the Kentucky Derby.

"He's right where I want him to be at the moment," said Zito. "He'll have one more work and be ready to go."

Zito used slightly different tactics when he sent out another of his top Derby prospects, Anak Nakal, about 30 minutes later. Anak Nakal broke off at the five-furlong pole in company with stablemate Truth Rules, gradually edged clear nearing the wire, then drew well off after being put to mild encouragement by Correa passing the wire. He completed six furlongs around the turn in 1:14.40.

"He's not like War Pass," explained Zito. "He's a mile and one-quarter horse so I wanted him to go further. I didn't really want him to draw away like that but the way he did it was beautiful."

Anak Nakal is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 24.

Richter Scale next for Chatain

Chatain, who successfully defended his title in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap earlier in the meet, worked four furlongs in 48.20 at Palm Meadows on Saturday. Afterwards, trainer Angel Penna Jr. confirmed Chatain will make his next start in the Grade 2, seven-furlong Richter Scale Handicap here on March 8.

Penna had originally contemplated sending Chatain to Dubai for the Godolphin Mile but said after conferring with his owners, the Lazy F Ranch, that those plans have changed.

"The owner wants to stay in the U.S. and point for the Met Mile," said Penna.

Saratoga Russell impressive in allowance

Trainer Rick Violette said he feared that Saratoga Russell could be vulnerable as the 3-5 favorite in Saturday's third race because of an inside post, a wet racetrack, and the fact he had missed two weeks of training earlier this winter. Fortunately for Violette, his worries were all for naught as Saratoga Russell cruised to an easy 10 3/4-length victory over Valdero in the first-level allowance race for 3-year-olds.

"He only had three works coming into the race," said Violette. "He's just a nice horse."

Violette said he has many options available for Saratoga Russell's next start.

"We're a little behind the 8-ball if we want to get on the Derby trail so we'll probably have to go right to two turns," said Violette, who trains Saratoga Russell for the West Point Stables.