War Pass’ loss is a loss … of course, of course

I wish War Pass were Mr. Ed, the talking horse from the popular 1960s TV comedy. After a 23-length, last-place loss at 1-20 odds in the Tampa Bay Derby, War Pass has some explaining to do.

The 2007 champion 2-year-old saw his star fall faster than Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced ex-governor of New York. War Pass went from the No. 1 or No. 2 horse on most everyone’s top-10 Kentucky Derby list to off the charts.

The fall from grace is stunning.

War Pass ran one of the worst races ever for a 1-20 odds favorite. He was jostled hard at the start and didn’t see the lead, which was the only position War Pass had ever held in a race.

For those “bridge jumpers” who bet hundreds of thousands of dollars to show on War Pass, their losing bet was never in doubt. War Pass was last entering the stretch and nearly eased at the finish. That made the Tampa Bay Derby show prices huge: Big Truck, $25.20; Atoned, $27.80; Dynamic Wayne, $76.40.

Trainer Nick Zito said War Pass was fine before, during and after the race. I have no reason to doubt him. Zito is an honorable man. That said, he now will point War Pass for his final Derby prep in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5.

Here’s my read on what happened Saturday: I think War Pass didn’t like getting roughed up at the start. Then for the first time, he found himself getting dirt kicked in his face from horses in front of him. He responded to adversity the way a bully does when he finally is challenged: He turned into a shrinking violet.

This doesn’t make War Pass a bad horse. On the contrary. It merely exposed a quirk in his personality. Better to deal with it now than on Derby day. For War Pass to win, he must get the lead where he can use his natural quickness and speed.

If the race is a brawl, as so often happens in the Derby, War Pass is in trouble. To win, he’ll need a War Emblem easy-lead, slow-pace scenario.

That said, to drop War Pass completely out of your Derby top-10 list is a knee-jerk reaction. If he’s healthy, as Zito insists, he can rebound in the Wood. Regular rider Cornelio Velasquez needs to get a good start and the early lead.

This is actually a good handicapping lesson for newcomers to horse racing. Bettors tend to overemphasize the last race a horse ran. If it’s a bad one, such as with War Pass, the horse might get overlooked the next time out. Forgiving horseplayers look for bounce-back plays like this.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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