In his first work since finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Tale of Ekati sizzled in a four-furlong breeze in :46 4/5 on May 20, with exercise rider Kristin Troxell in the saddle. Tagg didn’t want the colt to go that fast.
The next time Tale of Ekati worked, May 26, he lumbered through six furlongs in 1:18 4/5. The lethargic move by Tale of Ekati, who was ridden by jockey Eibar Coa in the work, didn’t please Tagg. Finally, Tagg was satisfied when Troxell worked Tale of Ekati six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 on June 1, in his final work for the Belmont Stakes.
“I would have rather had a 1:12 work two works before the race, rather than in the work before the race,” Tagg said. “I feel like the second-to-last work is the most important before a race. (But) I asked (Troxell) to do it this time, and she did it to perfection.”
Tale of Ekati isn’t getting a lot of attention leading up to the Belmont, but his credentials and affinity for Belmont mark him as a legitimate contender. Charles Fipke’s homebred has won three of seven career starts, including the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct in April. In winning the Wood Memorial, Tale of Ekati defeated last year’s 2-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, War Pass. It was a game performance on behalf of both horses who finished a half-length apart.
As a 2-year-old, Tale of Ekati captured two of three starts and became a graded stakes winner in his third race, the Futurity (gr. II) at Belmont Park, where he also won his career debut by 8 1/4 lengths in July 2007.
Tagg was satisfied with Tale of Ekati’s Derby effort. He was beaten 11 lengths by Big Brown.
“I thought he ran as well as he could,” Tagg said. “He kept digging. He always tries. It was a funny track (at Churchill). Some horses love it and thrive out there. Some horses don’t run their race on it. I thought (Tale of Ekati) ran pretty close to his race on it.”
Tagg has a healthy respect for the 2-5 morning-line favorite, Big Brown, but he is not conceding the Belmont to the Derby and Preakness (gr. I) winner.
“You can’t knock Big Brown; he has done everything he has supposed to do,” Tagg said. “Number-wise and everything else, he is a superior horse to the rest of the field. The Belmont is a little bit quirky, though. Favorites don’t always win.”
Tagg would know. He saddled the 2003 Belmont favorite, Funny Cide, who like Big Brown, entered the final leg of the Triple Crown with wins in the Derby and Preakness. Funny Cide, the even-money favorite in the Belmont, finished third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted over a sloppy track.
Does Tagg believe in karma, and the chance that Tale of Ekati could play the role of the spoiler this year?
The no-nonsense Tagg said, “I never think of those types of things. I just think of how my horse is doing.”