09/16/2007 11:00PM

Lear's Princess emerges to fill a void

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he had mixed emotions when his filly Lear's Princess upset Rags to Riches in Saturday's Grade 1 Gazelle Stakes. Those feelings continued when he learned that Rags to Riches will miss the Breeders' Cup Distaff and the rest of the year with a hairline fracture to her right front pastern.

McLaughlin is close friends with Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Rags to Riches, but at the same time Lear's Princess now becomes one of the favorites for next month's $2 million Distaff at Monmouth Park.

"I feel bad for Todd, his team, and yet at least time's all she's going to have to have and [then] be back in good shape,'' said McLaughlin, who earlier this year had to retire defending Horse of the Year Invasor due to injury. "It makes the next spot a little bit easier for all of us that are participating in it.''

Lear's Princess's development into a top dirt horse can be traced back to Rags to Riches's earlier issues. When Rags to Riches was forced to miss the Coaching Club American Oaks due to a temperature, McLaughlin tried Lear's Princess on conventional dirt in that race. She finished a good second to the Pletcher-trained Octave and followed that up with an even better second to Lady Joanne in the Alabama at Saratoga.

Equipped with blinkers for the first time in the Gazelle, Lear's Princess raced much more professionally, finishing sharper and without switching to her improper lead in the stretch as she had done in her two previous dirt tries.

"Funny enough, in each of her races, whether it was turf or dirt, she switched leads and kind of took herself out of races early," McLaughlin said. "I think she was more focused and looked great finishing. On figures, she's always improved, which is interesting.''

Lear's Princess earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure for her Gazelle win, the same figure she earned when beaten a neck in the Alabama.

On Monday, McLaughlin shipped Lear's Princess to Saratoga, where she has trained since May. McLaughlin's brother, Neil, oversees the Saratoga division.

McLaughlin finished second in two other graded stakes here on Saturday. Armonk, a maiden, ran second to Proud Spell in the Gradeo2 Matron. She will run back in the Grade 1 Frizette here on Oct. 6 or the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland the day before, in part because her owner, Jeff Singer, would like to make the BC Juvenile Fillies. Sabooh, who finished fifth for McLaughlin in the Matron, is a candidate for the Frizette or the Alcibiades.

Fantastic Shirl, who finished second for McLaughlin in the Grade 3 Noble Damsel, could run next in either the Grade 2 First Lady at Keeneland on Oct. 6 or the Grade 3 Athenia here on Oct. 13.

Tale of Ekati tops Tagg's big weekend

Trainer Barclay Tagg enjoyed a wildly successful weekend, winning three stakes at Belmont, topped by Tale of Ekati's one-length victory over Kodiak Kowboy in the Grade 2 Futurity. That race put Tale of Ekati, a son of Tale of the Cat, on the fast track to the $2 million BC Juvenile at Monmouth on Oct. 27.

Tagg also won Saturday's Grade 3 Noble Damsel with Dance Away Capote and Sunday's Ashley T. Cole for New York-breds with Dave.

"It was a great weekend," said Robin Smullen, assistant to Tagg. "All of the horses came into the races well. We're glad it turned out as well as it possibly could. When things are going good in this business you're winning 25 percent of the time, and we did better than that this weekend.''

Tale of Ekati overcame a layoff and some trouble to win the Futurity. He had missed some significant training time due to bucked shins sustained in his second-place finish in the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga on July 26.

"He wound up fitter than we thought,'' Smullen said. "We thought he'd be just a touch short, and it turned out he wasn't.''

Dance Away Capote earned a career-best Beyer of 103 for her electric move in the stretch to win the Noble Damsel. Dance Away Capote could run next in either the Grade 2 First Lady at Keeneland or the Grade 3 Athenia here.

Dream Rush out of Gallant Bloom

Dream Rush, the multiple Grade 1-winning 3-year-old filly and a leading contender for the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, will be forced to miss Saturday's $150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap due to an illness, trainer Rick Violette said.

Violette said Dream Rush had "a little bit of a snotty nose'' last week, which forced her to miss a workout. Dream Rush will now simply train up to the Filly and Mare Sprint on Oct. 26.

"If things were clear sailing, and she was on all eight cylinders and was clamoring to run, we would've run in the Gallant Bloom,'' Violette said. "Obviously the big goal is the Breeders' Cup. We don't want to take two or three steps backward and have to regroup.''

Violette said missing this race might turn out to be a blessing.

"She had two hard races over the summer; maybe skipping a race is the right thing to do anyway,'' he said. "It's not a race we had to make.''

Expected to run in the Gallant Bloom are defending champion Great Intentions, Pussycat Doll, Cuaba, Princess Janie, and Jazzy.

Vosburgh runners breeze

First Defence and Discreet Cat, both targeting the Grade 1 Vosburgh here on Sept. 30, breezed moments apart Monday morning over the main track.

First Defence, runner-up to Hard Spun in the Grade 1 King's Bishop, worked five furlongs in 59.77 seconds, the fastest of 16 works at the distance. Discreet Cat, unraced since finishing last in the Dubai World Cup on March 31, worked five furlongs in 1:01.84.

Bobby Frankel, the trainer of First Defence, said his horse appears to be doing better now than he was in Saratoga.

"He looks good now,'' Frankel said. "He was a little light at Saratoga. First Defence is a quick horse, maybe three-quarters is his gig.''

Big Brown sold to IEAH

The International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Inc. has purchased 75 percent of Big Brown, a debut-winning juvenile who is a candidate for the newly created BC Juvenile Turf. Paul Pompa, the colt's original owner, retained 25 percent interest in Big Brown.

The horse will soon move from trainer Pat Reynolds's barn to Richard Dutrow Jr.

Big Brown, a son of Boundary, won a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden race at Saratoga by 11 1/4 lengths on Sept. 3, covering the distance in 1:40.33 and earning a 90 Beyer.

"We felt this was a horse who showed tremendous quality in his debut and stamped himself as a runner we just needed to have in the barn," said Michael Iavarone, co-president of IEAH Stables. "To dominate a juvenile turf race at a distance of ground at first asking - that's something you just don't see."

Big Brown is being pointed to the $75,000 Pilgrim Stakes here on Sept. 29.

* Lawyer Ron, winner of the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga, worked four furlongs in 48.40 seconds Monday morning at Belmont. He remains on course for the $600,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup, where he is expected to meet Curlin, who worked six furlongs in 1:13.92 Monday at Saratoga.