01/01/2008 1:00AM

Big Truck leads off Tagg's winter lineup

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Aside from Street Sense, no 3-year-old commanded more attention coming into 2007 than Nobiz Like Shobiz. That placed trainer Barclay Tagg squarely, albeit somewhat uncomfortably, in the spotlight as he guided Nobiz Like Shobiz along the Kentucky Derby trail from his winter base at Gulfstream Park.

Tagg is back in south Florida this winter, and while he won't be under the type of scrutiny he faced with Nobiz Like Shobiz a year ago, he again has some talented 3-year-old prospects in his barn. The most noteworthy is Tale of Ekati, who won the Grade 2 Belmont Futurity before closing out his 2-year-old campaign with a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Tagg, who brought the New York-bred Funny Cide out of south Florida to upset the 2003 Derby, will have another of his top 3-year-olds in action this weekend when he sends out another New York-bred, Big Truck, as one of the leading candidates in Saturday's seven-furlong Grade 3 Hutcheson Stakes.

Like Funny Cide five years earlier, Big Truck began his career beating up on statebreds at 2. He won his maiden by 6 1/2 lengths and the Bertram F. Bongard Stakes by two lengths. After dropping a neck decision as the 1-5 favorite in the one- mile Sleepy Hollow Stakes, Big Truck ventured into open company to conclude his 2-year-old season, finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Remsen following an extremely eventful trip.

"The Remsen is a throw-out," said Tagg. "He had a bad trip every step of the way. The Hutcheson is really coming back a little too soon for him, but there really isn't any other place to run him.

"I wish they had left the Holy Bull where it used to be during the opening month of the meet instead of moving it back near the end. That would have been perfect. The only reason I'm turning him back to seven furlongs is because there's nowhere else to go right now."

Tagg will carry more than twice the horse load in south Florida this winter than he had a year ago, splitting his stable between Gulfstream and Palm Meadows.

"I've got 25 again here at Gulfstream and 35 more up at Palm Meadows," said Tagg, adding that he has about 30 more at Fair Hill, Md.

As for Nobiz Like Shobiz, he has turned into a turf specialist since departing Gulfstream, where he won the Holy Bull and finished third in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth last winter. Nobiz Like Shobiz ran off three straight graded wins on grass before finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile and then ending the campaign with an eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

"I just stopped on him after he returned from California," said Tagg. "He's been getting turned out in a paddock every day for the last month at Palm Meadows. I'll put the tack back on him in a couple of days and maybe look for something for him here near the end of the meet if things work out okay."

Trainer Dale Romans is also splitting his stable between Gulfstream and Palm Meadows this winter after being exclusively at the training center the past two winters. He will also be in action in the Hutcheson with Halo Najib, a son of Halo's Image who closed out his 2-year-old season finishing second in the Grade 3 Iroqois and fifth as the favorite after setting a contested pace in the Gradeo2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

"He got a little more aggressive and went to the lead a little sooner than I would have liked in the Jockey Club Stakes," said Romans. "But I think he should run real well shortening back to a sprint on Saturday. I thought this was a real good spot to start the year for him."

Halo Najib is one of two stakes-tested 3-year-olds Romans has for the Zayat Stables. The other is Eaton's Gift, a Johannesburg colt who won two of his first three starts at 2 before closing out the year finishing a tiring seventh in Hollywood Park's Grade 1 CashCall Futurity.

"I'll probably wait for the next one with Eaton's Call," said Romans, referring to the 6 1/2-furlong Swale Stakes on Feb. 2.

Romans will have a busy opening weekend. Aside from Halo Najib, he's also running Yates Black Cat and Thorn Song in Friday's Grade 3 Canadian Handicap and will have Doctor Googles Boogles for Sunday's Grade 3 Hal's Hope.

Two near-misses within minutes

Veteran trainer Cam Gambolati managed the unusual feat of losing two closes finishes in stakes four minutes apart last weekend.

Gambolati was at Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday to saddle Run Sully Run for the Inaugural Stakes. With Daniel Centeno up, Run Sully Run was bothered badly at the start of the six-furlong race, then came flying to just miss by a nose.

The Tampa horses had not even returned to be unsaddled when the field was dispatched at Calder for the Pete Axthelm Stakes. Gambolati watched via simulcast as Buffalo Man, with Edgar Prado up, rallied strongly from far back, only to finish a half-length back in second.

"Sully got annihilated coming out of the gate and should have won," said Gambolati, who began his training career in 1978, won the 1985 Kentucky Derby with Spend a Buck, and currently is stabled at the Palm Meadows training center. "Buffalo Man had no excuse other than he just ran out of ground."

For Buffalo Man, the Pete Axthelm defeat comes with a particularly shiny silver lining. He earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure in his career turf debut and, considering he was sired by El Prado, would seem to have a terrific future on the grass.

"It really was a great race for him, very encouraging," said Gambolati. "You hate to lose the way we did, but both horses came out of their races great."

Gambolati said both horses likely will run next in Gulfstream stakes, with Buffalo Man headed to the Jan.o27 Appleton and Run Sully Run going in the Feb. 2 Swale.

Margolis stable looks strong

Steve Margolis enjoyed the best of his seven years of training when his stable earned nearly $1.35 million in 2007. Now the Brooklyn native is looking to start off an even better year with a 28-horse string at Gulfstream that he calls "possibly the best group of horses I've ever had."

Margolis said he will be active with "a lot of maiden and allowance types" during the Gulfstream meet that begins Thursday. "You're running against guys like Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, and Christophe Clement every day here, so you're going against the best of the best. But I've got quite a bit of optimism coming into this meet because we have some really nice horses in the barn right now."

They include Change Up, Ballynoe, A Little Gem, Marina Ballerina, "and a couple of nice maidens" for the Klein family, he said.

Margolis, 44, also will maintain a 10-horse string at Turfway Park in Kentucky. A longtime assistant to Stan Hough before going out on his own in the fall of 2000, Margolis has trained such stakes winners as Cajun Beat, Request for Parole, and Baileys Edge.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee