Mike Lee Stakes winner Amberjack looks to take the next leg of the Big Apple Triple in the $150,000 New York Derby July 20 at Finger Lakes, the $250,000 bonus for the three-race series still within his reach.
Only one horse, Tin Cup Chalice, has swept the seven-furlong Mike Lee at Belmont Park, the 1 1/16-mile New York Derby at Finger Lakes, and the 1 1/8-mile Albany Stakes at Saratoga Race Course since the series began in 1999. This year, the $150,000 Albany will be run on Aug. 21.
Winner of two in a row for Peachtree Stable and trainer Mike Hushion, Amberjack took the Mike Lee by 1 3/4 lengths on June 1 over Weekend Hideaway, who does not return in this spot. A 3-year-old son of Indygo Shiner, he won the Mike Lee off a half-length victory in a May 11 $62,000 optional claimer going a mile at Belmont and will break from the rail under 120 pounds including jockey Jose Espinoza.
Five other sophomore New York-breds will challenge Amberjack, who was purchased for $185,000 from the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale.
Sharing highweight assignment of 120 pounds is Michael LeCesse's local homebred Tequila Hero, a son of Andromeda's Hero who comes off a late-closing second by two lengths in the June 29 Ontario County Stakes sprinting six furlongs at Finger Lakes. Tequila Hero won the Aspirant Stakes as a juvenile last fall at Finger Lakes, and has two other victories at the oval in allowance company.
West Hills Giant won the New York Breeders' Futurity at Finger Lakes as a juvenile last September after breaking his maiden at Saratoga. He recently ran fifth in the Mike Lee for Long Island Racing Stables, Sunrise Stables, and Gina Bentivegna, then came back June 30 to take the Spectacular Bid division of the New York Stallion Stakes on the Belmont turf. It was a good effort for the Frost Giant colt, who overcame a hesitant start to rally under a drive for a 2 1/2-length win.
West Hills Giant was runner-up to Vyjack in the Gotham Stakes (gr. II) in March, then failed to handle Polytrack when entered in the April 13 Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) at Keeneland. He finished 12th there for trainer John Terranova II, then waited until the June 1 Mike Lee for his next run.
John Esposito and Anthony Lo Grippo's Go Get the Basil gets blinkers this time out for trainer Rick Violette Jr., and could factor off a runner-up finish in allowance company June 22 at Belmont. The homebred son of Andromeda's Hero was six lengths back of Readthebyline in the 1 1/16-mile dirt affair, but handled himself well on a sloppy track one start prior in the May 11 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) when he finished third.
Go Get the Basil also ran in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), albeit a disappointing eighth. Earlier in his career he strung together three solid wins sprinting for Violette at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Completing the field are Bona Venture Stables' Smooth Bert, a Smooth Jazz colt who was third in the Mike Lee for trainer Leah Gyarmati last time out, and Francis J. Paolangeli's Street Lord, a son of Street Hero who broke his maiden at Belmont on July 4 for trainer Charlton Baker.
$150,000 New York Derby (Race 8, approximate post time 4:19 p.m. EDT), 1 1/16 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Amberjack (NY), J.L. Espinoza, 120, M E Hushion
2. Tequila Hero (NY), J. Flores, 120, M A LeCesse
3. West Hills Giant (NY), E.S. Prado, 118, J P Terranova II
4. Go Get the Basil (NY), A. Garcia, 118, R A Violette, Jr.