04/04/2008 11:00PM

Tale of Ekati catches War Pass

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Tale of Ekati (right) defeats War Pass in the Wood Memorial and is headed to the Kentucky Derby.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - War Pass rebounded from his last-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby, but Tale of Ekati did him just a little better, catching War Pass with about 20 yards to go to win Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by a half-length.

War Pass, who was pressed through the opening half-mile by Inner Light - acting as a rabbit for stablemate Court Vision - held second by 1 1/4 lengths over Court Vision. It was a neck back to Giant Moon, who was followed in the order of finish by Anak Nakal, Spurrier, Roman Emperor, Texas Wildcatter, and Inner Light.

The victory likely earned Tale of Ekati a spot in next month's Kentucky Derby, and gave trainer Barclay Tagg his second straight Wood victory. He won it last year with Nobiz Like Shobiz, who finished 10th in the Derby.

Tale of Ekati won the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont last September, but his viability as a Derby candidate was in question after he finished 17 1/2 lengths behind War Pass in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October and then a non-threatening sixth to Pyro in the last month's Louisiana Derby.

But Tagg felt he had legitimate excuses in both of those races. Tale of Ekati didn't handle the slop in the Juvenile. In the Louisiana Derby, he broke poorly. In his last two breezes for the Wood, Tale of Ekati worked from the gate.

Tale of Ekati broke well in the Wood and raced three wide outside of Texas Wildcatter and Giant Moon as War Pass, under Cornelio Velasquez, set the pace prompted by Inner Light. War Pass was forced to run fractions of 22.46 seconds and 46.07 for the opening half-mile.

Tale of Ekati moved into second position entering the far turn as War Pass ran six furlongs in 1:11.50 and drifted a bit off the rail for the stretch. Edgar Prado guided Tale of Ekati to the inside for the stretch, and through a final eighth run in 13.93 seconds, Tale of Ekati was able to catch a tiring War Pass.

Over a track rated fast but one that yielded modest times all day, Tale of Ekati, a son of Tale of the Cat owned and bred by Charles Fipke, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.35. It was the slowest Wood since Master Fiddle's 1:52.40 in 1952.

"They say time's only important when you're doing it," Tagg said. "I thought we were laying a little closer than I wanted to, but Edgar's got intuitiveness that stood him pretty well the last 30 years."

Tagg said Tale of Ekati was to ship to Keeneland on Sunday morning to begin preparing for the Derby.

Meanwhile, trainer Nick Zito said he was happy with War Pass's bounce-back effort from the Tampa Bay Derby.

"It would have been wonderful to win this Wood, but I'm happy the way he ran because he wasn't up the track," Zito said. "With the rabbit in there it hurt his chances a little bit, but no excuses."

Zito said War Pass would ship to Kentucky and "if he has a good month we'll see if we can make the Derby."

Trainer Bill Mott said jockey Garrett Gomez told him that Court Vision "slipped a couple times'' and "just didn't get into the bridle." But he said the horse would most likely point to the Kentucky Derby.