11/14/2008 1:00AM

El Brjuo leads weak edition of Coronation


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Coronation Futurity offers a lucrative $250,000 purse, and it is thought to be an early prelude to the following year's Queen's Plate, but no Coronation winner has won the Plate since Norcliffe turned the trick way back in 1975-76.

Two of the last three winners of the 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 2-year-olds eventually wound up in claiming races. This year's Coronation, on Sunday at Woodbine, is among the weakest in the 105-year history of the race - three of the six runners are maidens.

El Brujo is making his first start beyond seven furlongs for trainer Malcolm Pierce, who sent out Double Malt to win the South Ocean Stakes in her two-turn attempt last Wednesday.

El Brujo ran second in the Clarendon and Vandal Stakes during the summer, and was only beaten a half-length by Mine That Bird when third in the Sept. 14 Swynford Stakes. He won his last outing in a six-furlong allowance with a 79 Beyer Speed Figure.

Pierce is uncertain as to how El Brujo will handle a route of ground.

"It's definitely a question mark," said Pierce. "He's quite rateable. I didn't know about Double Malt, either, but I know now."

Pierce said El Brujo worked an encouraging five-eighths in 1:01 last weekend.

"I was really pleased with his work last Sunday," Pierce said. "He breezed behind a horse, and they finished up together at the wire."

Emma Wilson will ride El Brujo, who was supplemented at a cost of $7,500.

Khabibulin, a $180,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland, was second in his debut in a seven-furlong maiden special Oct 3. The winner, Monty's Best, returned to finish second in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill.

Khabibulin never challenged in his only other start, on the grass in the Cup and Saucer Stakes, ending up 10th of 12 in the field of Canadian-breds.

"He ran real good the first time," said trainer Mike DePaulo. "He missed a work when I took him out on the main turf course before the Cup and Saucer. The dogs were way out, and he kind of got lost out there and didn't make time. I think he wasn't fit enough to go a mile and a sixteenth."

DePaulo said Khabibulin is built like a route horse, and possesses pedigree to go long. The son of El Corredor is a half-brother to Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks winner Maren's Meadow.