With the 2007 Triple Crown season in the books, it’s time for New York-breds to get their turn at a three-race series when Sunday’s $100,000 Mike Lee Stakes kicks off the OTB Big Apple Triple. The series continues with the June 14 New York Derby at Finger Lakes and wraps up with the Aug. 22 Albany Stakes at Saratoga. If a horse can sweep all three races, its owner will receive a $250,000 bonus.
Off his effort in a May 19 entry-level allowance against New York-breds at Belmont, Thomas Van Meter’s What a Tale looks like the horse with the best chance of winning Sunday and sweeping the lucrative series. In his first start for trainer Bruce Levine last month, the $750,000 2-year-old in training purchase raced close to a moderate pace and then drew off to a commanding 7 ¾-length win, running the last eighth of a mile in a sharp :12 2/5.
“He trained very well going into that race, so it didn’t surprise me that he won, but I was impressed by how he did it,” Levine said.
What a Tale made the first five starts of his career for trainer Patrick Biancone. As a two-year-old, he ran second in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs behind Tiz Wonderful, who returned to win the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) in his next start. In his first start of 2007, What a Tale was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in a seven-furlong race at Keeneland, but he was beaten almost nine lengths in a fifth-place effort behind future Withers winner Divine Park.
Following his off-the-board finish at Keeneland, the son of Tale of the Cat was transferred from Biancone to Levine.
“When he didn’t run well at Keeneland, the owners decided to bring him to New York and I was the lucky beneficiary,” said Levine.
The only concern for What a Tale’s connections may be a possible regression off the colt’s huge race May 19, but Levine does not think “bounce” will come into play.
“He’s continued to train well and we’ve been pointing to this,” Levine said. “He’s had a little over a month since his last race, so the timing is good.”
Levine is in the enviable position of having two leading New York-bred three-year-olds. In addition to What a Tale, he also trains the undefeated Bustin Stones, who he is pointing to the $150,000 Amsterdam Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga July 30th, followed by the $250,000 King’s Bishop (gr. I) on Travers Day, August 25.
I’m a Numbers Guy, owned by Bean Counter Stables, could have the best chance of upsetting What a Tale. He won the Bertram Bongard Stakes by seven lengths before finishing off his two-year-old season with a seventh-place finish in the Champagne (gr. I).
In his first start as a three-year-old, I’m a Numbers Guy was defeated 1 ½ lengths as the 4-5 favorite by Precise Alloy, a five-year-old who can be very tough when he brings his best game. Despite the defeat, trainer Tim Ritchey said he was pleased with I’m a Numbers Guy’s effort.
“I thought he ran very well in his prep against older horses,” said Ritchey, who trained 2005 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Afleet Alex. “Any time you run against older horses in your first start of the year, that’s tough on a three-year-old, but you can’t run in a stakes race without some kind of significant prep.”
Ritchey said he expects a better performance in the Mike Lee on Sunday.
“Obviously, his last race was a big effort and his maturity level should rise from that race,” the trainer said. “That race was far enough away for timing not to be an issue and he’s breezed well since.”
The top two finishers from the Spectacular Bid division of the June 3 New York Stallion Stakes will return in the Mike Lee to take on What a Tale and I’m a Numbers Guy.
Making his first start in 2 ½ months, Dr. V’s Magic drew off to beat Stunt Man by three lengths in the Spectacular Bid after sitting just off the pace. Stunt Man made an early move in that one-mile race, but could not go with Dr. V’s Magic late.
Chief’s Lake, winner of last year’s Sleepy Hollow, made his first and only start as a three-year-old in the May 9 Screenland Stakes and ran an even third behind Bustin Stones and Indian Camp. An improvement in his second start of the season could make him dangerous in the Mike Lee.
The speed of the race should be Berry Bound, who went all the way on the lead to defeat favored Smokey Chimney in an entry-level allowance here on Belmont Stakes Day.
Mike Lee Stakes (Race 8, approximate post time 4:45 p.m.), $100,000 for 3-year-olds, seven furlongs on the dirt.
1. What a Tale, Eibar Coa, 119
2. Dr. V's Magic, Kent Desormeaux, 123
3. Stunt Man, Cornelio Velasquez, 119
4. Chief's Lake, Garrett Gomez, 121
5. I'm a Numbers Guy, Carlos H. Marquez, Jr., 119
6. Berry Bound, Edgar Prado, 119