NEW YORK -- Nick Zito just loves the Champagne, and he was all smiles in the winner's circle after War Pass gave the trainer his fifth victory in the oldest stakes race for 2-year-olds.
"The Champagne is a top race, and it's been a pretty good race for us," Zito said after War Pass cruised to a 1½-length win over Pyro and gained automatic entry into the Breeders' Cup in three weeks.
While Zito has fared well in the $400,000 Champagne -- his five winners have come in the last 10 runnings -- the Hall of Fame trainer still is looking for his first win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
He's 0-for-9 in the Juvenile, and in War Pass he's sure to have one of the favorites at New Jersey's Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.
"He's an amazing horse," Zito said. "He's got incredible speed, and he's got those afterburners."
The bay son of Cherokee Run improved to 3-for-3 and earned $240,000 for owner Robert La Penta, who bought War Pass for $180,000 last year.
An expected rematch between Majestic Warrior and Ready's Image -- the 1-2 finishers in the Hopeful Stakes last month at Saratoga -- never developed on a hot, sunny day at Belmont. Majestic Warrior, the even-money favorite co-owned Yankees boss George Steinbrenner, was never a factor and finished sixth; Ready's Image, trained by Todd Pletcher, was last in the eight-horse field.
Ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, War Pass took the lead by nearly 5 lengths and maintained his advantage heading into the final turn. Down the stretch, Pyro staged a late run and finished second, with Z Humor third.
Lantana Mob was fourth, followed by Silver Edition, Majestic Warrior, Anakim and Ready's Image.
Zito's other Champagne winners are The Groom is Red in 1998, Greenwood Lake in '99, A P Valentine in 2000 and Birdstone in 2003.
War Pass returned $11.20, $6.70 and $5.20 as the 9-2 third choice. Pyro, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, returned $19.60 and $9.40, and Z Humor paid $10.80 to show.
The winning time for the mile Grade I Champagne was 1:36.12.
In other stakes at Belmont, 3-5 favorite Indian Blessing ($3.30) pulled away in the stretch and won the $400,000 Frizette Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, giving trainer Bob Baffert a top contender for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in three weeks. Indian Blessing, ridden by Garrett Gomez, is 2-for-2.
Nobiz Like Shobiz ($5.90) made it 3-for-3 since moving to the grass with an impressive 4-length victory in the $300,000 Jamaica Handicap. Trainer Barclay Tagg has said his 3-year-old colt, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby, would skip the Breeders' Cup and run instead in the Hollywood Derby.
The Champagne is one 24 Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" races.
Four other "Win and You're In" races were run at Keeneland on a day marred by fatal injuries to two horses and a serious leg injury to 3-year-old Teuflesberg.
Off Duty ($29.40) won the Phoenix and qualified for the BC Sprint; Vacare ($7.80) took The First Lady Stakes (BC Filly & Mare Turf); Wicked Style ($24.40) captured the Breeders' Futurity (BC Juvenile); and Purim ($43.80) edged Cosmonaut in the Shadwell Turf Mile (BC Mile).
The breakdowns occurred in the Phoenix and the Breeders' Futurity.
Dream of Angels was euthanized after flipping over in the paddock and fracturing his skull before the Phoenix, and Teuflesberg broke down on the backstretch during the race. Teuflesberg suffered serious injuries to the sesamoid bones in his left front leg. On-track veterinarian Alan Ruggles said the colt also had injuries to his right front leg and would have surgery next week on both legs.
In the Futurity, Gold Train was euthanized after fracturing a leg just past the quarter-pole at Keeneland, which now features Polytrack, a synthetic surface thought to be than a dirt surface.
Off Duty earned a spot in the BC Sprint but was not nominated for the Breeders' Cup. To run, his owners would have to pay a supplemental fee of $300,000.