By Francis LaBelle Jr.

Charles E. Fipke’s Tale of Ekati won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial here at Aqueduct Racetrack back on April 5 and his only other victory of the year came in Belmont Park’s Grade 2 Jerome Handicap on October 5.

Trainer Barclay Tagg hadn’t been exactly lighting it up either, entering Saturday’s card in an 0-for-28 slump.

But luck returned to both when Tale of Ekati, a nose loser to Stronach Stable’s Harlem Rocker, was placed first through disqualification and was the declared winner of the 20th running of the $300,000 Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile – New York’s final Grade 1 race of 2008.

“The longer the inquiry goes, they usually don’t change it,” Tagg said. “I could see it happening; (Harlem Rocker) took the lane away from us. Sometimes it happens for me, sometimes it happens for them.”

It happened this time when, after a lengthy deliberation, stewards ruled that Harlem Rocker had come far inside under jockey Eibar Coa’s right-handed stick to briefly block Tale of Ekati and jockey Edgar Prado in the lane. Tale of Ekati was able to circle and mount another rally that came up a nose short in 1:35.01 on the fast main track.

“(Tale of Ekati) didn’t appear to really check and he had every opportunity to go by our horse,” said Harlem Rocker’s trainer, Todd Pletcher. “And, in my opinion, he was never going by. It’s a tough call in a Grade 1. I’ll talk to (owner Frank Stronach) and see if he wants to appeal the ruling.”

Tale of Ekati returned $19.80 for his fifth win in 12 starts. He is now unbeaten in two tries at a mile.

“The (nine-furlong) Wood Memorial came up perfect for him, but I’ve said all along that this horse is a miler,” Tagg said. “But when you have a three-year-old with the Kentucky Derby, you have to try different things with them. They are only three years old once. He didn’t shame himself in the Kentucky Derby (fourth). It’s nice to start the year with a Grade 1 at Aqueduct and end it here with a Grade 1.”

The dramatic finish was set up by Monterey Jazz, the post-time favorite of the crowd of 4,799 despite the fact that he had not raced since his victory in Lone Star Park’s Grade 3 Texas Mile on April 26. Under jockey David Flores, he set an intense pace of 22.87, 45.31 and 1:09.42, setting the stage for Tale of Ekati and Harlem Rocker as he tired to finish seventh.

“I was right where I wanted to be,” Flores said. “I never fought the horse when he wanted to go to the lead. He was very comfortable up front. My only concern was if he was going to make it the whole distance, because he hadn’t run since April. When we hit the quarter pole, I heard him start to breath heavier. After that, it was the end of it, but he should be able to come back.”

Bribon (FR) was third, with Arson Squad, Kodiak Kowboy, Storm Play, Monterey Jazz and Visionaire trailing.

Wanderin Boy, a seven-year-old Seeking the Gold gelding who had a record of 9-6-3 from 24 career starts and earnings in excess of $1.2 million entering Saturday’s race, fractured the sesamoids in his left-front leg and was euthanized.


HILL ‘N’ DALE CIGAR MILE QUOTES

Barclay Tagg, trainer of Tale of Ekati (No. 5), who finished second by a nose but was placed first on the disqualification of Harlem Rocker: “The longer the inquiry goes, they usually don’t change it. I could see it happening; (Harlem Rocker) took the lane away from us. Sometimes it happens for me, sometimes it happens for them.

“The (nine-furlong) Wood Memorial came up perfect for him, but I’ve said all along that this horse is a miler. But then you have a three-year-old with the Kentucky Derby, you have to try different things with them. They are only three years old once. He didn’t shame himself in the Kentucky Derby. It’s nice to start the year with a Grade 1 at Aqueduct and ended it here with a Grade 1.”

Edgar Prado, jockey of Tale of Ekati: “You could see he was coming in on me and I had to steady.”

Todd Pletcher, trainer of Harlem Rocker (No. 3), who was disqualified from first and placed second: “(Tale of Ekati) didn’t appear to really check and he had every opportunity to go by our horse. And, in my opinion, he was never going by. It’s a tough call in a Grade 1. I’ll talk to (owner Frank Stronach) and see if he wants to appeal the ruling.”

Eibar Coa, jockey of Harlem Rocker: “You see the same kind of separation happening over and over again. I didn’t see why they would take me down this time. I didn’t think (Edgar Prado aboard Tale of Ekati) had to stop riding to go around me.”

David Flores, jockey of beaten favorite and seventh-place finisher Monterey Jazz (No. 6): “I was right where I wanted to be. I never fought the horse when he wanted to go to the lead. He was very comfortable up front. My only concern was if he was going to make it the whole distance, because he hadn’t run since April. When we hit the quarter pole, I heard him to breath heavier. After that, it was the end of it, but he should be able to come back.”

UPDATE: Wanderin Boy, who was vanned off after the Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile, was undergoing x-rays at this writing. . . According to Dr. Anthony Verderosa, Demoiselle winner Springside will be taken to New Bolton, Pa. on Sunday. “It is not a simple fracture, but the (right-front) pastern is intact,” he said.