04/07/2008 12:00AM

Tale of Ekati rewards Tagg


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Barclay Tagg was quite confident he had a Kentucky Derby horse in Tale of Ekati. Any lingering doubts were erased after the colt rallied past War Pass to win Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

While the final time of 1:52.35 was the slowest Wood since 1952, Aqueduct's main track was a heavy, drying out surface. Moreover, Tale of Ekati was making just his second start of the year. In his first, he finished sixth in the Louisiana Derby following a troubled start.

"I got started a little later with him this year than I wanted," Tagg said Monday from Keeneland, where Tale of the Ekati shipped Sunday morning. Tagg added that the Louisiana Derby set up Tale of Ekati well for the Wood.

Tagg worked Tale of Ekati twice from the gate leading up to the Wood and is hopeful that those problems are solved.

Tagg, who won the Derby in 2003 with Funny Cide, will also be running Tampa Bay Derby winner Big Truck in this year's Kentucky Derby.

Tagg said Tale of Ekati reminds him of Showing Up, who finished sixth to Barbaro in 2006 in his fourth career start.

"He's very much like Showing Up in a lot of ways - about the same size, tenacious, quick turn of foot, aggressive, not afraid of much," Tagg said.

Known for being fashionably late to Louisville - he nearly missed the draw last year - Tagg already has his Derby prospects in the state of Kentucky, albeit at Keeneland. Tagg said he decided to bring a division of his better horses to the Lexington track this year and delay his return to New York from south Florida.

Tagg said Tale of Ekati and Big Truck would do all of their pre-Derby training at Keeneland before making the one-hour van ride to Louisville a day or two before the race.

Giant Moon possible for Preakness

Giant Moon ran well enough in the Wood Memorial to convince his connections he could be a Kentucky Derby horse, but his lack of graded stakes earnings ($38,750) makes it virtually impossible for him to get into the field.

Thus, trainer Richard Schosberg and owner Al Fried will consider the Preakness at Pimlico on May 17 for the New York-bred son of Giant's Causeway. Giant Moon finished fourth in the Wood, beaten two lengths by Tale of Ekati and just a neck for third by Court Vision.

Giant Moon was coming off a last-place finish in the Gotham in which he didn't care for the sloppy track. Prior to that, he had won his four previous starts.

"We accomplished a lot and showed that he belongs in that company," Schosberg said Monday morning. "I don't think it's enough to get us in the Kentucky Derby on earnings. We're not going to close that door. If it comes down to a week before the Derby and we have an option, Mr. Fried and I will discuss it. But I have no problem trying the Preakness off of six weeks."

Schosberg said Giant Moon came out of the Wood "the most tired I've ever seen him." But Schosberg said that was understandable because "if you throw out the Gotham, it was his first race in 90 days."

Bustin Stones eyes Met Mile

Trainer Bruce Levine said Bustin Stones came out of his victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Carter Handicap in good order and will now point to the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 26 and a likely showdown with fellow New York-bred Commentator.

"It'll be a race, Commentator's fast, too," said Levine who was still basking in the glow of his first Grade 1 stakes victory. "I wouldn't mind getting in a race without as much speed, but if you're going to run in the Met, you're going to hook somebody."

Bustin Stones held off a stern challenge from Executive Fleet to win the Carter by a half-length for his sixth victory in as many starts. He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 109.

Though Bustin Stones has not run farther than seven furlongs, Levine said he's felt all along the horse could go longer.

"I'm not comparing [Bustin Stones] to him, but I never thought Ghostzapper would go long, and they ended up stretching him out," Levine said, referring to the 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year. "It'll be easier on him. He's very ratable, he just runs fast."

Linda Rice, the trainer of Executive Fleet, said she had mixed emotions about her horse's narrow defeat in the Carter. Rice was the trainer of City Zip, who is the sire of Bustin Stones, and she has a lifetime breeding right to City Zip.

"If we were going to get beat, I'm glad it was Bustin Stones who beat us," said Rice, who has a wall of City Zip win photos on her office wall.

Rice said Executive Fleet would likely point to the Grade 3, $100,000 Bold Ruler Handicap on May 10.

Running for half the money

Levine said if he knew at entry time that Temporary Saint was only going to be running for half the purse money in Saturday's $200,000 Excelsior Handicap he likely wouldn't have run. Good thing he didn't know.

Temporary Saint rolled to a front-running 1 1/2-length victory over Nite Light in the Excelsior, but earned only $66,720 because he was not Breeders' Cup eligible. The purse of the Excelsior consisted of $100,000 of New York Racing Association funds and $100,000 Breeders' Cup funds.

"I didn't realize it till I picked up the overnight," Levine said.

Since Temporary Saint is a gelding, Levine said he would look for handicap stakes with the most money and the least competition. He added he would look to keep the horse running around two turns. The Pimlico Special on May 16 is possible.

Lieutenant Ron a potential star

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin won't be a factor in this year's Triple Crown, but he has a potential major player for the second half of the year in Lieutenant Ron.

A son of Graeme Hall, Lieutenant Ron ran his record to 2 for 2 on Sunday by winning a seven-furlong allowance race by 3 1/2 lengths, running seven furlongs in 1:22.13 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 101. It was his first start since he won a maiden race last Nov. 10 at Aqueduct, earning a 102 Beyer.

McLaughlin explained that Lieutenant Ron emerged from his debut with an unspecified issue "in his rib cage and his flank," and veterinarians advised some time off. McLaughlin gave Lieutenant Ron 45 days off before tack walking him for a few weeks. He didn't return to the work tab until late February.

"It was unfortunate because maybe if we gave him a week off it would have been the same result because it wasn't anything major," McLaughlin said. "But we did right by him. Now we'll miss the big dances, but there are plenty of dances later on."

McLaughlin said his initial thought is to point Lieutenant Ron to the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day and hopefully use that as a springboard to the Haskell and Travers.

McLaughlin said he also has to think about what to do next with Keep Laughing, winner of Saturday's Lafayette Stakes at Keeneland. McLaughlin would like to stretch him out in distance but isn't sure when or where to do that.

J Be K possible for Withers

J Be K, winner of Saturday's Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes, did not join his more celebrated stablemate Curlin on a flight from New York to Kentucky Sunday morning. Instead, J Be K remained at trainer Steve Asmussen's Belmont Park barn and is a possibility for the Grade 3, $150,000 Withers, a one-turn mile stakes race run here April 26, Asmussen said.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee