02/08/2003 1:00AM

Tee Cat takes Curribot


Sunland Park, N. M. - With an unusual fog accompanied by drizzling rain settling in on the desert southwest, Preston Stable's Tee Cat took advantage of a track tightened up by the moisture to win Saturday's $50,000-added Curribot Handicap in

wire-to-wire fashion. In addition, Tee Cat equaled the track record for 1 1/16 miles, becoming just the third horse in Sunland history to run the distance in 1:42.00. Tee Cat's time makes the fifth track record equaled or broken at this meet.

Tee Cat, a Steve Asmussen-trained five-year-old horse by Tabasco Cat, had previously raced in the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston, where he set a pressured pace but weakened in the stretch to be fourth, beaten six lengths by Valhol. Against weaker competition in the Curribot, Tee Cat controlled the race throughout with jockey Sal Gonzalez Jr. aboard. Gonzalez teased his opponents by giving Tee Cat a breather on the far turn, which allowed his rivals a moment of hope. When asked for run at the top of the stretch, however, Tee Cat quickly disposed of any would-be challengers and drew off under steady urging.

The win was Tee Cat's first in a stakes and put his career earnings at $129,895 with a record of 16-5-4-2. Asmussen, who led the nation's trainers in wins last year, continued his mastery of Sunland Park and now has ten wins here from just 19 starts. Tee Cat returned $4.20 as the heavy favorite while second choice Leloup ran well to be second, three lengths behind the winner and a neck in front of third place Face the Band.