After a pair of important grade I wins in New York as a sophomore last year, trainer Barclay Tagg had high expectations for Tale of Ekati in 2009, but so far things have not not panned out. Tagg will try blinkers on the son of Tale of the Cat as Belmont Park opens its 64-day spring/summer meet April 29 with the $100,000 Westchester Stakes (gr. III).
“Tale of Ekati has not been running the way I like, and I don’t know the reason,” Tagg said. “I‘ve had every vet go over him, every guru, every expert. No one can find anything wrong with him. So, we’re putting blinkers on and seeing if that helps him to break better. (Ramon) Dominguez is riding him, so we gave him a blow-out (April 26) with Ramon up. I was at Fair Hill, but [assistant trainer Robin Smullen] said he popped right out of there, so maybe we’re onto something."
Tale of Ekati was clocked in :50.12 breezing from the gate on a fast Belmont Park main track.
The millionaire colt began the year with a fourth-place finish in the Richter Scale Sprint Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, then was last of eight in Aqueduct’s seven-furlong Carter Handicap (gr. I) on April 4. In the one-mile Westchester, Tale of Ekati will break from the rail against nine rivals while carrying co-high weight of 121 pounds. First post on opening day is 1 p.m. ET.
Owned by Charles Fipke, Tale of Ekati won a pair of grade I races — Aqueduct's Wood Memorial Stakes and Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile Handicap (moved up from second on the disqualification of Harlem Rocker) — during a 3-year-old campaign that also included a victory in Bemont's Jerome Handicap (gr. II).
Tagg also entered Wicked B. Havior, a winner on Keeneland's Polytrack April 10. Tagg said the 6-year-old Florida-bred is “a real nice horse who has won three of his last five starts. He’s earned his shot in this race.” Edgar Prado has the riding assignment.
Another trainer looking for answers is Robert Ribaudo, whose French-bred Bribon ran an encouraging third in the Cigar Mile, beaten by less than one length, but disappointed subsequently.
Owned by Marc Keller, Bribon was sent to Florida for the winter, where he flourished both physically and mentally. Ribaudo is still trying to figure out where his horse fits. He's hoping that the 6-year-old Mark of Esteem gelding is ready for a break-out campaign.
“The time in Florida did him good,” Ribaudo said. “He looks great physically, and I know he has improved mentally. When he was younger, he was always a very tough horse to handle. Now, he is much more professional.
“I’m still trying to see if he belongs with grade I horses, or if we are shooting too high. After the Cigar Mile, we had a lot of confidence in him. Then, in a very strangely run race, he did nothing. He came back, and exploded again and won by six lengths. Then, we put him in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II). He ran okay, but we had to use a different jockey.”
Ribaudo doesn't blame jockey Cornelio Velasquez for Bribon’s fourth-place finish in the race, but he thinks there is a difference when Alan Garcia is aboard.
“Alan is Bribon’s regular rider,” said Ribaudo, “but the problem with that is that he is sometimes out of town or has to ride first call for Kiaran (McLaughlin). So, you have to get another rider. Alan fits this horse well because he lets Bribon take him into the race. At this stage of his career, Bribon doesn’t need anybody wrestling with him.”
Bribon will break from post 7 under 119 pounds, two fewer than Tale of Ekati and Wishful Tomcat. Garcia will be aboard.
Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. has entered two uncoupled horses in Wishful Tomcat and Mor Chances.
Wishful Tomcat, a 4-year-old son of Tactical Cat, won Aqueduct’s closing day feature, the Kings Point Handicap, on April 26, covering nine furlongs in 1:48.96 for a three-quarters of a length victory in 1:48.96 as the even-money favorite. It is not entirely out of the question for Dutrow to run him back in the Weschester, but it will depend on how the horse does in the next couple of days.
“If he’d had an easy race, I’d probably run him back,” Dutrow said. “I’m leaning against it. It depends on how he feels when I wake up (that) morning.”
Mor Chances has won four in a row since last November, but all have been at shorter distances and all have come against fellow New York-breds. Supplemented to the Westchester, he will break from the outside in post 10 under jockey Richard Migliore.
“He’s doing really well, and I like his post,” Dutrow said. “He’s in with some tough horses, but maybe he is up to the task.”
$100,000 Westchester Stakes (gr. III, Race 8, 4:45 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Tale of Ekati (KY), 121, Ramon A. Dominguez
2. Cave's Valley (FL), 119, Eibar Coa
3. Wicked B. Havior (FL), 117, Edgar S. Prado
4. Spin Master (KY), 117, John R. Velazquez
5. Discreet Treasure (KY), 117, Cornelio H. Velasquez
6. Per Incanto (KY), 119, Rajiv Maragh
7. Bribon (FR), 119, Alan Garcia
8. Wishful Tomcat (NY), 121, Eddie Castro
9. Formidable (KY), 117, Jose Lezcano
10. Mor Chances (NY), 119, Richard Migliore