Juddmonte Farms' favored War Zone closed gamely on the outside with Javier Castellano aboard to nip South African Trademark by a half length in Saturday's $116,200 Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) at one mile on the Belmont Park turf.
The Bobby Frankel-trained War Zone turned in a dazzling final time of 1:32 4/5 on a firm course. Trademark edged pacesetting Saint Verre for second by a half length. A field of 11 competed.
Frankel recorded his 32nd grades stakes victory in 2003.
Castellano saved ground while racing in the rear of the pack with War Zone, mounting his rally on the rail on the final turn and swinging the 4-year-old homebred son of Danzig around horses in the stretch. He caught Trademark, who was making his first American start with Eibar Coa in the irons, close to home after the Kiaran McLaughlin longshot made the lead while driving outside of Saint Verre.
"Bobby (Frankel) told me before he left (to saddle Denon for the United nations Handicap at Monmouth) to ride him confidently and be patient. He broke well, then we fell back and I kept him covered up. I was able to save ground all the way. We angled outside, and when I asked for run and he took off. "
Saint Verre, ridden by Jose Espinoza, popped the gate in front and established a solid lead through fractions of :23 4/5, :46 1/5, 1:09 2/5, giving way only grudgingly on the inside in the final furlong.
War Zone won for the second time in three starts in the U.S. this year after racing 10 times in France, where he won four, including a group III at Longchamp. He was fifth in his most recent start, the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park on May 26. He earned $69,720 for the win and has won $284,637 in his career.
The winner paid $6.90, $4.50 and $3.10. Trademark, a 7-year-old gelding who had been competing since December in Dubai for Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, returned $11.20 and $8. Saint Verre's show price was $4.60. the $2 exacta was worth $75.50.