Granted, Marc Keller’s French-bred Bribon ran third in that race, but he was beaten by two solid players in Tale of Ekati and Harlem Rocker. Tale of Ekati emerged the winner by disqualification, and it was only three-quarters of a length back to Bribon.
On Wednesday afternoon, when Belmont Park opens its doors on its 64-day Spring/Summer Meet, Ribaudo seeks answers when he saddles Bribon for the 81st running of the Grade 3, $100,000-added Westchester for three-year-olds and up at a mile.
First race post is 1 p.m., and Wednesday kicks off Belmont Park’s “Save Your Bucks” deal for fans, good every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from April 29 through May 29. Fans will receive $1 off general parking, admission, beer, soda, hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza on those days.
Ribaudo is hoping he has the real deal in Bribon, a 6-year-old Mark of Esteem gelding.
“The time in Florida did him good,” Ribaduo said. “He looks great physically, and I know he has improved, mentally. When he was younger, he was always a very tough horse to handle. Now, he is much more professional.
“I’m still trying to see if he belongs with Grade 1 horses, or if we are shooting too high. After the Cigar Mile, we had a lot of confidence in him. Then, in a very strangely run race, he did nothing. He came back, and exploded again and won by six lengths. Then, we put him in the (Grade 2) Gulfstream Park Handicap. He ran okay, but we had to use a different jockey.”
Ribaudo is not blaming jockey Cornelio Velasquez for Bribon’s fourth-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, but insists there is a difference when jockey Alan Garcia is aboard.
“Alan is Bribon’s regular rider,” said Ribaudo, “but the problem with that is that he is sometimes out of town or has to ride first call for Kiaran (McLaughlin). So, you have to get another rider. Alan fits this horse well because he lets Bribon take him into the race. At this stage of his career, Bribon doesn’t need anybody wrestling with him.”
Bribon will break from post 7 in the field of 10. Garcia will be aboard as Bribon will carry 119 pound, getting two pounds from Tale of Ekati and Wishful Tomcat, both of whom will carry top weight of 121 pounds.
Charles Fipke’s Tale of Ekati won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at a three-year-old last year, along with the Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile, during a campaign that also included victory in the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap here at Belmont Park.
So far this year, he has run fourth in the Grade 2 Richter Scale at Gulfstream Park and was last of eight in Aqueduct’s Grade 1, seven-furlong Carter Handicap on April 4. Also looking for answers, trainer Barclay Tagg has equipped Tale of Ekati with blinkers for the Westchester and has also entered Wicked B. Havior, a recent winner on Keeneland’s Polytrack on April 10
“Tale of Ekati has not been running the way I like, and I don’t know the reason,” Tagg said. “I‘ve had every vet go over him, every guru, every expert. No one can find anything wrong with him. So, we’re putting blinkers on and seeing if that helps him to break better. (Ramon) Dominguez is riding him, so we gave him a blow out (Sunday, four furlongs, 50.12, breezing, on Belmont Park’s fast main track) with Ramon up. I was at Fair Hill (Md.), but [assistant trainer Robin Smullen] said he popped right out of there, so maybe we’re onto something.
“As for Wicked B. Havior, he’s a real nice horse who has won three of his last five starts. He’s earned his shot in this race.”
Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. is also running two uncoupled horses here: Wishful Tomcat and Mor Chances.
Wishful Tomcat, a 4-year-old son of Tactical Cat, won Aqueduct’s closing day feature, the Kings Point Handicap, on Sunday, covering nine furlongs in 1:48.96 for a three-quarter-length victory in 1:48.96 as the even-money favorite. It is not entirely out of the question for Dutrow to run him back in the Weschester, but it will depend on how the horse fares in the coming days.
“If he’d had an easy race, I’d probably run him back,” Dutrow said. “I’m leaning against it. It depends on how he feels when I wake up [Wednesday] morning.”
Mor Chances has won four in a row since last November, but all have been at shorter distances and all have come against fellow New York-breds. Supplemented to the Westchester, he will break from the outside in post 10 under jockey Richard Migliore.
“He’s doing really well, and I like his post,” Dutrow said. “He’s in with some tough horses, but maybe he is up to the task.”
The field for the 81st running of the Grade 3 Westchester:
PP. HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY WGT.
1. Tale of Ekati Barclay Tagg Ramon Dominguez 121
2. Cave’s Valley Michael Trombetta Eibar Coa 119
3. Wicked B. Havior Barclay Tagg Edgar Prado 117
4. Spin Master Steve Klesaris John Velazquez 117
5. Discreet Treasure Stanley Hough Cornelio Velasquez 117
6. Per Incanto Kiaran McLaughlin Rajiv Maragh 119
7. Bribon (FR) Robert Ribaudo Alan Garcia 119
8. Wishful Tomcat Richard Dutrow Jr. Eddie Castro 121
9. Formidable H. Allen Jerkens Jose Lezano 117
10. Mor Chances Richard Dutrow Jr. Richard Migliore 119
Tale of Ekati will race with blinkers.