by Karen M. Johnson
War Pass put in a tremendous performance Oct. 6 to win the $400,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Belmont Park by 1 1/2 lengths and will now head to the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27 undefeated in three starts.
The news wasn’t as good for even-money favorite Majestic Warrior and second-choice Ready’s Image, who both ran poorly in the Champagne. Majestic Warrior finished sixth and Ready’s Image was last in the eight-horse field. In their prior starts, Majestic Warrior won the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) and Ready’s Image was second.
The Champagne was a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup designated race.
When the gates opened, War Pass bounded out to an early lead with jockey Cornelio Velasquez in the saddle. War Pass enjoyed a solitary lead through lively fractions of 22.87 seconds, 45.72, and 1.10.24.
War Pass, a son of Cherokee Run, didn’t encounter any challenges in the stretch. Pyro made a good run late but was never going to catch War Pass. Z Humor was third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Pyro.
War Pass returned $11.20 as the third choice. He covered the one-mile distance in 1:36.12 over a fast track.
Velasquez said he believes the Champagne winner is something special. “I think I have a very good horse,” the rider said. “He relaxed on the lead and I had a lot of horse at the eighth pole.”
Nick Zito trains War Pass for Robert V. LaPenta. It was the fifth win in the Champagne for Zito, who also won with The Groom is Red (1998), Greenwood Lake (1999), A P Valentine (2000), and Birdstone (2003).
Zito was happy to see War Pass setting the pace.
“(War Pass) is an amazing horse,” Zito said. “He has blazing speed. I give (Velasquez) credit. He gave us what we wanted. He’s a good-feeling horse and that’s why he likes to run. The only thing we will worry about is the three weeks (to the Breeders’ Cup).”
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Ready’s Image, said the colt will not go to the Breeders’ Cup. “I wouldn’t expect a horse of that quality to run like that without an excuse,” Pletcher said.