10/29/2007 12:00AM

War Pass runs his way to a title

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Nick Zito had run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile before, but often with reticence. The record of horses who had won the Juvenile, and then the Kentucky Derby, had been as bare as a newborn baby, which gave Zito pause. But two things changed Zito's mind about running this year. First, the Juvenile-Derby drought was broken earlier this year by Street Sense. And Zito correctly realized he had a chance to nail down a championship if War Pass could win the Juvenile.

So Zito sent War Pass into battle on Saturday at Monmouth Park in the $2 million Juvenile, and watched the unbeaten colt roll to his fourth straight victory, this time by 4 3/4 lengths, to clinch the Eclipse Award as the nation's best 2-year-old male of 2007.

War Pass ($6.40), the favorite, used his sharp speed to grab the lead, disposed of his early challengers heading into the far turn, opened up a commanding, seven-length lead at midstretch, and coasted home. The result had a familiar look, because Pyro, who had finished second to War Pass in the Champagne Stakes three weeks ago at Belmont Park, again rallied for second. He finished 12 lengths in front of Kodiak Kowboy, with Tale of Ekati fourth.

Z Humor was fifth and was followed, in order, by Old Man Buck, Overextended, Shore Do, Salute the Sarge, Wicked Style, and Globalization in the field of 11. Dixie Chatter was scratched Thursday and Slew's Tiznow on Friday, reducing the original field of 13.

The first five finishers had all turned in their final prep race at Belmont Park.

With jockey Cornelio Velasquez aboard, War Pass set fractions of 22.76 seconds, 45.56, 1:09.65, and 1:35.64 before completing 1 1/16 miles on the sloppy main track in 1:42.76, nearly two full seconds faster than Indian Blessing 39 minutes earlier in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

The win was the second in a Breeders' Cup race for Zito - whose only previous victory was with Storm Song in the 1996 Juvenile Fillies - and the third for Velasquez.

"He just keeps getting better and better," Zito said. "He has tons and tons of talent. There's no apology for this 2-year-old champion. He did what he was supposed to do in all four of his starts."

Including handling the mud. War Pass had won his second start on a track rated good at Saratoga, but that was nothing like the conditions on Saturday.

"His pedigree says he would warrant it, but you still never know until the gates open up," Zito said. "He's got that speed with the afterburners."

War Pass is a colt by Cherokee Run out of the Mr. Prospector mare Vue. He is owned by Robert LaPenta, who purchased War Pass as a yearling in September 2006 at Keeneland for $180,000. LaPenta was going to resell War Pass at a sale of 2-year-olds in training earlier this year, but withdrew the colt.

"He had some minor ankle problems," LaPenta said. "He had some chips."

Zito said War Pass would not race again until next February, when attention will turn toward his quest for the Derby. He will spend the winter in Florida.

"We'll do everything possible so that come Derby Day he can get that mile and a quarter," Zito said. "He's a very talented horse.

"I always say it's like a mini-Derby, this race," said Zito, who has won the Derby twice, in 1991 and 1994. "We've got to get a big Derby."

Pyro, who ran second, "was not comfortable with the track the first part of the race," said his jockey, Shaun Bridgmohan.

"He was spinning his wheels early," Bridgmohan said. "He never got the traction he needed, but still got second. The sky is the limit for this horse."

Pyro's trainer, Steve Asmussen, on Monday said he would "choose him over anything else" when it comes to the Derby.

"Pyro's for real," Asmussen said. "We've got enough earnings to get into the Derby. Now we just have to prep him to get him to the Derby."

Asmussen said Pyro would spend the winter at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Asmussen also finished third in the Juvenile, with Kodiak Kowboy, whom Asmussen said would get a 30-day freshening on a farm in Kentucky before returning to training.

Tale of Ekati, who was fourth, "didn't really handle the track well, but he still ran a good race," said his jockey, Eibar Coa. "He kept trying and trying. He ran fourth on heart."

Tale of Ekati will spend the winter in Florida with his trainer, Barclay Tagg.