But thanks to a brilliant ride by jockey Eibar Coa and a thunderous move in the final 16th, the 2-year-old colt didn’t need any excuse, winning the important juvenile prep by a length over favorite Kodiak Kowboy at Belmont Park Sept. 15.
Trained by Barclay Tagg, Tale of Ekati won for the second time in three starts. An 8 1/4-length winner in his maiden debut in early July, the Charles Fipke homebred followed up with a second-place finish in the Sanford Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga July 26. This victory solidifies Tale of Ekati into the upper-echelon of the juvenile division.
“He’s a very nice colt,” said Tagg, who won the Noble Damsel Handicap (gr. IIIT) with Dance Away Capote one race earlier. “We’ve been very high on him since we’ve gotten him to the track. He came back after his last race with some sore shins. We gave him some time to freshen him up. He came back well in his workouts. I’m with him all day, every day, and you can really tell when a horse is coming to himself.
“We are very excited about him. We’ll probably train him straight up to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.”
After hitting the gate at the start, Tale of Ekati was quickly hustled up to third by Coa, and stayed there through an opening quarter of :22.90 that was set by Mythical Pegasus. The son of Fusaichi Pegasus held the lead through a half-mile (:46.46), with the Todd Pletcher-trained The Leopard right on his heels.
As the field of six turned for home, Kodiak Kowboy, who had won four of five starts coming in, made a bold three-wide move and was seemingly primed to gobble up Mythical Pegasus in mid-stretch. While Kodiak Kowboy and Mythical Pegasus dueled, Coa aggressively angled Tale of Ekati to the rail in order to get through. The bay colt found room, darted through the opening and dug in gamely, overtaking Kodiak Kowboy in the final strides.
“He was very professional and really helped me out,” said Coa. “I was in trouble the whole race, being trapped inside. He was patient with me and didn’t get stupid. As soon as he came through, I knew he had it. I’ve liked him from the first time I sat on him. I think he is very good.”
Kodiak Kowboy raced well in defeat, while Mythical Pegasus finished a neck behind in third. The Leopard, at odds of 5/2, was a disappointing fifth after being in perfect striking position in the stretch.
“He ran well,” said Kodiak Kowboy trainer Steve Asmussen. “They came home the last eighth of a mile in under 12 (seconds). It was a very good race.
“We ran second today. I don’t want to take anything away from the winner. He got left at the gate and ran a great race to beat us. We’ll probably train him up to the Breeders’ Cup.”
The final time was 1:22.33. Tale of Ekati paid $8.70 to win. The exacta (3-6) was worth $18.20.