12/31/2008 1:00AM

Famous Patriot tries to set the tone for 2009

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MIAMI - Famous Patriot first gained national attention early in 2008 when he followed up an impressive nine-furlong maiden victory at Gulfstream Park with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes. A victory over the multiple stakes winner Tin Cup Chalice in an overnight stakes in New York late last summer enhanced his reputation.

But after closing out his 3-year-old campaign with two subpar performances, Famous Patriot will have to prove himself all over again in 2009, beginning Saturday, when he goes postward as one of many contenders in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Famous Patriot ended the year with a ninth-place finish in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, followed by a distant fourth in Aqueduct's Best of Luck overnight stakes on Oct. 29.

"In retrospect it was probably a bad idea running him in either of his last two races," said Tim Hills, who trains Famous Patriot for Dana Reiss's Patriot Stable. "The first was at Hoosier, which is a seven-furlong bullring, and he never picked up his feet around those sharp turns. I know that had to be it because we beat the horse who won the race, Tin Cup Chalice, three weeks earlier. In fact, Famous Patriot is the only horse to have ever finished in front of Tin Cup Chalice in the U.S."

Hills said the muddy racetrack compromised Famous Patriot's chances in the Best of Luck.

"The track was like a skating rink that day and he just didn't handle it," said Hills.

Famous Patriot has had plenty of time to recuperate from those performances since arriving in south Florida with the bulk of the Hills stable last month.

"He's really doing well," said Hills, who has 25 horses bedded down at Gulfstream and another 10 at Belmont this winter. "He breezed especially well on Tuesday. I had him break off four lengths behind a workmate and he finished three in front. I caught him in 47 and a tick for a half-mile. We know he loves this racetrack, and if he runs well in the Hal's Hope, we'll point for the Sunshine Millions Classic at the end of the month."

Tale of Ekati almost back to work

Tale of Ekati, who closed out his 3-year-old campaign with victories in the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap and Grade 1 Cigar Mile, is in training at Gulfstream, where he should have his first official work this winter within the next several days.

"I got him good and fresh, and he's about ready to start breezing," said trainer Barclay Tagg. "I want to keep him right around a mile this year. The Hal's Hope just came up a bit too quick."

Tagg said he is considering two races for Tale of Ekati at Gulfstream: the Richter Scale at seven furlongs on Feb. 14 and the Gulfstream Park Handicap at one mile on March 14.

"The owner is also talking about maybe taking him to Dubai for the [Godolphin] Mile, and if that's the case then he'd probably run here just once," Tagg said.

Tagg also has an eye on a couple of important races later this month for Dry Martini and Hello Broadway.

Dry Martini was scheduled to arrive at Gulfstream on Thursday and could go in the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 24. Dry Martini won the Grade 3 Stuyvesant Handicap while with trainer Billy Turner Jr. during the fall. Tagg had Dry Martini, a son of Slew Gin Fizz, when he captured the Grade 3 Cornhusker at 3.

Hello Broadway, runner-up in the Grade 2 Nashua in his 2-year-old finale, worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 at Gulfstream on Tuesday and is being pointed for the Grade 2 Hutcheson on Jan. 30.

Fatal breakdown during morning works

Training was delayed for nearly 30 minutes at Gulfstream on Wednesday after a 2-year-old trained by Ferris Allen broke down during a workout and had to be euthanized on the racetrack. The accident caused the cancellation of the regularly scheduled renovation break at 8:30 a.m. to facilitate training the remainder of the morning.

The incident was the third training mishap at Gulfstream in less than a week. On Sunday, a horse from trainer Frank Alexander's barn broke down in early stretch during a routine workout. The following morning, Hunting, among the nominees for Saturday's Hal's Hope, was run into by another horse while in the midst of a work, although fortunately none of the horses or riders involved was seriously injured.

Calder's tough year comes to an end

The beleaguered 2008-09 racing season at Calder ends Friday with an 11-race program topped by the ninth race, an entry-level allowance dash for 3-year-old fillies. Honestly, an easy winner of her U.S. debut, and Pink Gloss top the eight-horse lineup.

The Calder and Tropical at Calder meets suffered from a business standpoint due to both the sagging economy and a dispute between horsemen and management that prevented the simulcast signal from being sent to account-wagering sites for all but the final week of the season.

* Einstein, one of the top handicap horses in the country in 2008, arrived at Gulfstream earlier this week and went to the track for the first time Wednesday morning. Einstein won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf here last winter and upset Commentator in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill on Nov. 28.