05/21/2008 12:00AM

Tale of Ekati in spoiler role

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Barbara D. Livingston
Tale of Ekati, here with groom Gabriel Ariano, will be looking to upset Big Brown in the Belmont.

The roles have reversed this year for trainer Barclay Tagg and his assistant, Robin Smullen, going from the hunted to the hunters. In 2003, they tried to sweep the Triple Crown with Funny Cide, but were denied in the Belmont Stakes by Empire Maker, who had finished second to Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby, skipped the Preakness, and came into the Belmont fresh, fit, and dangerous.

This year, in the 140th Belmont Stakes on June 7 at Belmont Park, Tagg and Smullen will be trying to stop the Triple Crown bid of Big Brown, the Derby and Preakness winner, with Tale of Ekati, who finished fourth in the Derby and then skipped the Preakness to point for the Belmont.

Tale of Ekati showed how fresh he is on Tuesday at Belmont Park, when he zipped a half-mile in 46.84 seconds in his first workout since the Derby. Kristin Troxell, his regular exercise rider, was aboard.

"He went a little faster than we wanted, but he did it easy, and he could not have blown out a match afterwards," Smullen said from New York. "Kristin's really light. She weighs about 100 pounds. She sat very still. He's a pretty cool customer.

"We usually work about 10 days after a race, but we thought he needed a little extra time considering the ship to New York after the Derby, and we weren't pointing for the Preakness, so that might have left him a little sharp. When I picked him up with the pony, he was squealing and bucking. He was happy to do something."

Tale of Ekati has won both his starts at Belmont Park, both in sprints. He defeated maidens in his debut on July 7, then won the Belmont Futurity on Sept. 15. His lone win since then was in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5. He was sixth in the Louisiana Derby in his first start this year, but was compromised by a poor start.

In the Kentucky Derby, Tale of Ekati finished 11 lengths behind Big Brown. Smullen said Tale of Ekati also has been nominated to the Grade 2, $300,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown on May 31, but that the Belmont was the intended target.

"Barclay's inclined to run in the Belmont," Smullen said. "We realize that Big Brown is a very salty customer, but Tale of Ekati is doing awfully well."

Tale of Ekati was bred and is owned by Charles Fipke, a Canadian diamond miner. Tale of Ekati is by Tale of the Cat, a son of Storm Cat, and is out of the mare Silence Beauty, a daughter of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence, who was second in the 1989 Belmont Stakes.

Meanwhile, Big Brown had a leisurely day at Belmont on Tuesday, merely walking the shed row in Barn 2, where he will be located through the Belmont Stakes. He was scheduled to return to the track for a jog on Wednesday.

In addition to Big Brown and Tale of Ekati, others currently pointing for the Belmont are Anak Nakal, Casino Drive, Denis of Cork, Macho Again, Icabad Crane, and Tomcito, and possibly Behindatthebar, Ready's Echo, and Spark Candle.

Tomcito underwent throat surgery - a myectomy - at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania on May 13, just three days after he finished seventh in the Peter Pan Stakes, according to trainer Dante Zanelli.

Zanelli said Tomcito displaced his palate badly in the Peter Pan. Tomcito returned to Belmont on Friday and resumed training Saturday.

"He's training toward the race, but we're taking it one day at a time see how he's progressing," Zanelli said.

Tomcito was bred in Kentucky, but began his career in Peru, where he won four times in five starts. In the United States, he was 12 1/2 lengths behind Big Brown when third in the Florida Derby, finished sixth of 11 in the Lexington Stakes, and was seventh of nine in the Peter Pan, beaten by 22 1/4 lengths.

- additional reporting by David Grening