Robert LaPenta’s War Pass, the champion 2-year-old of 2007 and winner of the $2 million Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Monmouth Park, has suffered a leg injury that has knocked the colt out of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Trainer Nick Zito said Saturday that X-rays had revealed a small fracture in the sesamoid in the colt’s left front ankle. Veterinarian Dr. Rick Fischer discovered the fracture that Zito said would likely require War Pass to be on the sidelines for “a few months.” Zito said equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage would be consulted on the injury early next week, but it’s too early to know if surgery would be required.
“It’s at the back of the ankle, and it pulled away from the sesamoid,” Zito said. “It’s very small. In fact, he (Fischer) took the picture again and had a technician look at the digital images, because there’s no swelling there. He’s actually walking sound.”
Zito said the fracture had occurred recently. Fischer suggested the colt had probably suffered the injury during the running of the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct on April 5. War Pass finish second to Tale of Ekati in that race after leading in rapid early fractions. War Pass shipped to Zito’s barn at Churchill Downs on the day after the Wood Memorial, and for several days the colt appeared to be thriving in his new surroundings.
Zito and his staff began to feel that something was amiss with War Pass, but couldn’t put a finger on a problem because of the lack of swelling or other obvious physical symptoms.
“We had some good days, but we started to get some bad days,” said Zito. “We were getting to crunch time and I was getting these funny things, and I just couldn’t get through it. The Wood was a killer – anybody who saw it knows it was a gut-wrenching performance. The race took its toll, but when he got back to the barn at Belmont, he was great – that’s the heart he’s got.”
Zito said LaPenta and William S. Farish of Lane’s End Farm, the Versailles, Ky., breeding facility where War Pass will stand as a stallion following his racing days, were consulted after Fischer offered his diagnosis.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing for the LaPenta family, it’s disappointing for the Farish family,” said Zito. “Both families took it well. And he’s extremely important to my family and my racing family, because these people put their heart and soul in the Derby dream. So they’re taking it good because they love the horse, and the horse will be with us. The LaPentas took it as great as any owner could take it. He’s grateful for having a champion – and it could be worse. So what I’ve got to do is give him a few months off, see the healing process, and go through all the motions. I’ll take the pictures over to Dr. Bramlage on Monday, see what he thinks and we’ll go from there.”
War Pass, who was unbeaten in four races in his championship campaign and had one win in three starts this year, was Zito’s brightest hope for a third victory in the Kentucky Derby.
Zito and LaPenta have another Derby contender in Cool Coal Man, the winner of the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream. Another Zito-trained Derby hopeful is Four Roses Thoroughbreds’ Anak Nakal, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) last fall at Churchill Downs.
“It’s unfortunate," Zito said of the injury. "It just wasn’t meant to be, maybe. It’s a shame, because he has all the ability in the world. He’s one of the best I’ve ever had.”
War Pass owns a career record of 5-1-0 in seven races and earnings of $1,583,400. He led all contenders for Kentucky Derby 134 in graded earnings with $1,470,000. His defection will open the door for another horse in the crowded field of Derby contenders to make the maximum field of 20 horses in that race. The roster of horses hoping to make the Derby remains at more than 30, but only the 20 horses with the highest totals in graded earnings will be allowed to enter the race.