A pair of colts with proven stakes credentials and an up-and-comer stepping out of allowance competition headline the $100,000 Mike Lee Stakes, the featured race at Belmont Park June 20.
Contested at seven furlongs and restricted to New York-bred 3-year-olds, the Mike Lee is the first leg of the OTB Big Apple Triple, which also includes the $150,000 New York Derby at Finger Lakes on July 17 and the $100,000 Albany at Saratoga on Aug. 25. A $100,000 bonus will be awarded to the connections of any horse who sweeps all three races.
The 2-1 morning-line favorite in the Mike Lee is Ibboyee, who won three stakes against state-breds as a 2-year-old and earned his first black-type victory against open company in his most recent effort when he captured the Spend a Buck at Monmouth Park on May 23.
Owned by Anstu Stables, Ibboyee placed in a pair of seven-furlong events at Gulfstream Park over the winner, finishing third in both the Hutcheson (gr. II) and Swale (gr. II), and was also runner-up in the Withers (gr. III) over a one-turn mile at Aqueduct.
“I think he’ll handle (the cut back) real well,” said Ibboyee’s trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s been successful in races over the distance.”
Because Ibboyee has already proven himself going long or short, he could be a strong contender in all three legs of the Big Apple Triple.
“We think it’s nice series for New York-breds,” said Pletcher. “We’re just trying to take advantage of his New York-bred status.”
With John Velazquez named to ride, Ibboyee will break from post 2.
General Maximus, a four-length winner in his lone start as a juvenile, returned to defeat Afleet Express by 1 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream on Jan. 30 in his seasonal bow. Fourth when stretched out to a mile at Gulfstream on Feb. 27, he rebounded to score by 3 1/4 lengths in the Times Square division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Belmont Park on May 2 last time out.
“We thought going into his last race that he was only 75% fit, and he got a lot out of that race,” said his trainer John Terranova.
Terranova opted to have General Maximus bypass the New York Stallion Stakes on May 26 and the Woody Stephens (gr. II) on June 5 in favor of the Mike Lee.
“(The New York Stallion Stakes) was on the grass and it really wasn’t our plan to try him on the turf yet,” said Terranova. “We thought about the Woody Stephens, but thought the Mike Lee would set us up well for the summer.”
Owned by Goldmark Farm, General Maximus will break from post 4 under Javier Castellano as the 5-2 second choice.
Friend or Foe, who is unbeaten in two starts, will face stakes competition for the first time in the Mike Lee.
“There will be some good horses, but this will be a good test,” said John Kimmel, who trains Friend or Foe on behalf of Chester and Mary Broman.
A two-length debut winner at Gulfstream in March, Friend or Foe was geared down late when he captured an allowance for New York-breds after checking slightly at the head of the stretch at Belmont on May 15.
“He had some trouble, but he still ran fast,” said Kimmel of the allowance victory. “I thought it was impressive. When (jockey Rajiv Maragh) put him in the clear, he just ran by those horses.”
Kimmel is hopeful the son of Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Friends Lake will continue to progress as he negotiates longer distances.
“He has beautiful movement,” said Kimmel. “He’s a big horse—about 17 hands. This is an important step to seeing if he can stretch out. He’s bred to go long, but has tactical speed.”
Maragh retains the mount aboard Friend or Foe, who drew post position 6 as the 7-2 third choice.
$100,000 Mike Lee Stakes (Race 9, 5:17 p.m.), 3YO, 7 Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Make Note (NY), E S Prado, 120, G Weaver
2. Ibboyee (NY), J R Velazquez, 122, T A Pletcher
3. Fenway Faithful (NY), R A Dominguez, 118, R A Violette Jr.
4. General Maximus (NY), J Castellano, 122, J P Terranova, II
5. Raynick's Jet (NY), C H Velasquez, 120, S M Asmussen
6 .Friend Or Foe (NY), R Maragh, 118, J C Kimmel