LaPenta: War Pass was Perfect for Race

LaPenta: War Pass was Perfect for Race
Photo: Coglianese Photos
War Pass was 100% healthy going into the Tampa Bay Derby.
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Bob LaPenta and Nick Zito have always taken pride in their honesty, and with the nightmare of War Pass’ shocking performance in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) still causing them sleepless nights, LaPenta feels the need to address his comment after the race that the colt had a fever earlier in the week.

It was a comment LaPenta regrets making, mainly using a harsh word like fever, but he admits to being in a state of shock after seeing War Pass stagger home in last place. At the time, he wasn’t even aware of all the travails the colt had to endure, getting slammed into from both sides by two longshots, then being bumped hard again shortly after, and getting squeezed between horses going into the first turn. After that, the champ, who was bet down to 1-20 in the race, had little to offer after being swung to the outside by Cornelio Velasquez.

What caused the horse to run the way he did after all his troubles, whether it was physical or mental, no one knows. But if there is one thing LaPenta is sure of, it’s that War Pass was 100% healthy going into the race. And as a person who believes in integrity, in business and as a Thoroughbred owner, he now fears any repercussions that might question that integrity.

“I can’t believe I could have a catastrophe like I had on Saturday,” he said. “If there is one thing everyone who knows me will tell you, I’m an honest person. I put money into the game, I bring my family into the game, and we’re having fun and having some success. It’s a great thing. How that could go up in flames overnight is amazing to me. Believe me, if there’s one thing in my life I take pride in, it’s that I never go home and lose sleep at night because I didn’t tell somebody the truth. I may make a mistake, but I never, ever lie.

War Pass is a hot-blooded horse and his normal temperature is a little higher than most horses – 100.3. On the Sunday before the race it was 100.6, yet he was eating and kicking the barn down. He was fine. It’s not like he had a 102 temperature and was sick. He wasn’t even given antibiotics.

“Does anyone think Nick or I would bring a horse like this to a $350,000 race and jeopardize his health and do something terrible to his reputation? We’d have to be out of our minds to send this poor horse out sick. Nick sleeps with this horse; he’s calling the barn all day and all night. He’ll wake up at two o’clock in the morning and call the barn. I have 24-hour guard service. Do you know how many times I spoke to the doctor last week and the doctor said ‘he’s fine; his blood count is fine?’ I just don’t want to see Nick get dragged through the mud. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with him in the last three months in which he said, ‘Bob, we’re not going to do anything with this horse unless he’s absolutely perfect.’”

Although the debate about disclosure still exists, especially with a 1-20 shot who is one of the top two favorites for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), LaPenta emphasizes the fact that there was never any hesitation about running the horse, who was given a clean bill of health and who was acting perfectly normal.

“I had 25 family members there and everyone was having a great time,” LaPenta said. “When the horse walked past the stands he looked like Adonis; he was gorgeous. We’ve got babies on our shoulders and the people are cheering, and then everything went wrong.

“I didn’t see what everyone saw on the head-on shots. And when this horse came around the turn and into the stretch the world came to an end. I almost fell down; I was standing there in shock. I had no idea what happened; no clue. We still have no idea. I mean, we’re going to the Kentucky Derby with the favorite. We get letters from Japan and from all over the world. To have that explode like that, do you think I was in my right mind five minutes after that race?

“He’s been checked over completely and we haven’t found a thing wrong with him. The whole day was a calamity of errors. I still haven’t been able to watch the replay, because I’ll throw up. But there is one thing I can guarantee you – going into the race, there was nothing wrong with that horse.”

So, for now, LaPenta and Zito will draw a line through the race and continue with their plan to run in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and hope War Pass rebounds in much the same manner Afleet Alex and Holy Bull did after their uncharacteristic bad efforts on the Derby trail.

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