01/30/2008 12:00AM

Tagg eyes Derby with trio

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Contrary to popular opinion, Nick Zito isn't the only New York-based, Kentucky Derby-winning trainer stabled at Gulfstream Park and Palm Meadows this winter with an abundance of top 3-year-old prospects in the barn. Another horseman who fits that description is Barclay Tagg, who has a trio of Derby hopefuls, including Grade 2 winner Tale of Ekati and the improving Elysium Fields.

Elysium Fields, an eight-length maiden special weight winner going 1 1/8 miles here earlier in the meet, worked a half-mile in 46.94 seconds and galloped out five-eighths in 59.59 immediately after the renovation break here Wednesday. The move was the best of 15 at the distance on the morning's tab.

"It was just a maintenance work," Tagg said. "I just wanted to wake him up, but he woke up a little too much."

Elysium Fields, a son of El Prado, had hit the board in each of his three 2-year-old starts after lagging far back in all of those races. Tagg added blinkers for the colt's 3-year-old debut, and the change had Elysium Fields much closer to the early pace.

"He wasn't going anywhere in his first few races, so I thought blinkers would help," Tagg said. "He's pretty laid back, and even with the blinkers, he was still content to settle in his last start."

Tagg said Elysium Fields will likely return in the Grade 2 Fountain Of Youth on Feb. 24.

Tagg also sent out his other impressive 3-year-old maiden winner, Jockey Ridge, to work a half-mile in 47.48 seconds earlier Wednesday. Jockey Ridge led throughout to post a 4 3/4-length victory going 6 1/2 furlongs while making just his second career start on Jan. 18.

"I'll probably just look for an allowance race for him, since he hasn't run long yet," Tagg said.

Meanwhile, Tale of Ekati, winner of the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont and a troubled fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, has been training steadily at Palm Meadows for his return. Tagg had Tale of Ekati stabled at Gulfstream earlier this winter but transferred him to the Boynton Beach training facility after it appeared the colt was having difficulty handling the local surface.

"I might bring him back here and give him another chance over this track," Tagg said. "At the moment, my main goals with him are the Louisiana Derby and the Wood."

Tagg also confirmed that Showing Up will likely launch his comeback in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 9. Showing Up had been pointing for the Appleton here last weekend, but Tagg took him out of consideration for the race when he was not completely satisfied with his final work.

"He's doing well now and ready to go," Tagg said.

Smooth Air eyes Sam Davis at Tampa

Two other horsemen mapping out plans for their top 3-year-olds are the Calder-based pair of Benny Stutts and Marty Wolfson.

Stutts bypassed Saturday's Grade 2, 6 1/2-furlong Swale Stakes and will instead take Smooth Air to Tampa for the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis on Feb. 16. Smooth Air comes off a one-length victory going seven furlongs in the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes here earlier in the meet.

"The race in Tampa makes the most sense because I want to stretch him out, not turn him back in distance," said Stutts, who is confident that Smooth Air will handle the extra ground.

Wolfson said the Sam Davis as well as the Fountain of Youth are options for the up-and-coming Golden Spikes, a game second behind Zito's Cool Coal Man in a second-level allowance race here last weekend.

"I was really impressed with his performance the other day," Wolfson said. "He never gave up even after being pushed the whole way while going a mile and one-eighth for the first time. The right horse beat him, and I think he answered the distance question with that performance. The Sam Davis would be a good option if we decide to ultimately point for the Tampa Bay Derby, because it would give us a run over that track."

Face the Cat looks toward stakes

Trainer Helen Pitts also mentioned the Sam Davis as a possible next start for Face the Cat, her promising 3-year-old prospect. Face the Cat earned himself a possible stakes opportunity after posting his second straight victory under jockey Edgar Prado in Monday's $41,500 allowance feature at a mile.

"He had a lot of growing up to do," Pitts said. "But Edgar said he was so much more mature today and he thinks he won't have any problem handling more distance. I'll nominate him for the Sam Davis, which is at a mile and one-sixteenth, and see how it comes up."