07/05/2003 12:00AM

War Zone prevails

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Bobby Frankel's last-minute decision to ship War Zone from California to New York paid off handsomely Saturday when War Zone knifed his way through the field to win the Grade 3, $116,200 Poker Handicap by a half-length.

Trademark, who raced near the pace under Eibar Coa, did well to hold second, a half-length ahead of the pacesetting Saint Verre.

It was the seventh stakes victory of the meet for Frankel, and the fifth consecutive Saturday he won at least one graded stakes race at Belmont Park. Frankel wasn't in town to see it though, as he was at Monmouth Park to saddle Denon and Requete in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap.

Before leaving Belmont on Saturday morning, Frankel instructed jockey Javier Castellano to ride War Zone like he was the best horse in the race. Castellano did just that.

After breaking a bit slowly, Castellano moved War Zone into eighth place down the backside, advanced him into contention while racing along the inside around the turn, then tipped him out three wide for the stretch. In deep stretch, War Zone persevered past Trademark and Saint Verre.

War Zone covered the mile in 1:32.81 and returned $6.90 as the favorite.

"I was inside in the rear all the way in the race and when I made my run the horse just took off," Castellano said. "I worked him three days ago and he really worked well and I felt I had a good opportunity to win the race."

Lukas wins first race of meet

The D. Wayne Lukas stable recorded its first victory of the Belmont meet, ending a 0-for-51 skid in New York dating back to Feb. 8 when Boston Brahmin, a 2-year-old son of Boston Harbor, won his maiden by 9 1/2 lengths.

Pollard's Vision, the odds-on favorite who finished seventh, stumbled an eighth of a mile past the wire and unseated jockey John Velazquez. Velazquez landed on his feet, and rolled over three times. He was taken off the track on a stretcher, but returned to ride later on the card.