06/13/2003 12:00AM

Ekati tries for first local win


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Ekati, a two-time stakes winner in 2002, heads the field in an optional claimer at Hastings Sunday. The 1 1/16-mile race is for 3-year-olds and up who haven't won two races or are eligible to be claimed for $35,000. It goes as the ninth of 12 races.

Ekati won the Manitoba Derby Trial and the Harry Jeffrey Stakes at Assiniboia Downs last year. He comes into this three-turn race off of three sprints, with his best finish a close second May 19. He could be the controlling speed in the race, and the three times that he has made the lead early, he went on to win.

But all of Ekati's wins were in Winnipeg, and in 10 starts at Hastings he has been in the money only twice. Harold Barroby trains and Robert Skelly rides.

Nineleventurbo, who is trained by Robert Gilker, easily has the best Beyer Figure at the distance, and in his only start of the year he finished a sharp second in a $25,000 sprint May 24.

On the surface, the move into a $35,000 optional race would appear to be beyond his scope, but other than Ekati, he's the only other horse in the field with a win beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. With Kat Dancer in the race, there's a very good chance that Ekati will have company up front, and the race could set up nicely for Nineleventurbo's good late move.

The last time Nineleventurbo won was almost a year ago, July 4 at Emerald Downs, in a $10,000 starter race that he won by 6 3/4 lengths. Like Ekati, he has never won at Hastings, but has finished second four times in nine starts. Frank Fuentes rides.