The Big Apple Triple is on the line in the 1 1/8 mile Albany Stakes tomorrow as Amberjack, the son of Indygo Shiver will try to capture the third and final leg and the $250,000 bonus that goes with it. The three year old New York bred has dominated the first two legs, winning the seven furlong Mike Lee at Belmont in June in 1:21.64 and then capturing the 1 1/16 mile New York Derby at Finger Lakes in 1:44.42 over the sloppy going.
The only catch is that at least six horses have to leave the gate for the bonus to “be in play,”and as of Tuesday evening, seven have entered. In some ways, the handlers of Amberjack might be more nervous about the number starting than the actual race. Of the seven entered, Smooth Bert, second in the New York Derby is the only other horse that will have competed in all three legs. He finished third in the Mike Lee.
Amberjack will be ridden by Junior Alvarado, who rode him to victory in the Mike Lee. Trainer Mark Hushion says Alvarado knows the horse and he will let the jockey dictate what happens. Smooth Bert will likely be on or near the lead, and Amberjack has shown exceptional ability to rate and stalk in both legs. In the Derby, Amberjack took the early lead, then dropped to third, settling nicely for jockey Jose Espinoza. When it was time to run at the top of the stretch, Amberjack showed everybody he was much the best.
The other horses are the coupled entry of Ego Friendly and In Harm’s Way, along with Smooth Bert, Escapefromreality, Seventy Six and Go Get the Basil, who was fourth in the Derby. Here are the posts, the jocks and odds as of Tuesday evening.
1 Ego Friendly Rocco 20
1A In Harms Way Gomez 20
2 Smooth Bert Luzzi 5
3 Escapefromreality Castellano 7/2
4 Amberjack Alvarado 4/5
5 Seventy Six Napravnik 12
6 Go Get the Basil Garcia 6
Amberjack is the best of the bunch on paper, but Smooth Bert may have a big one in him, and is probably the biggest threat to Amberjack’s attempt at the triple. Post time is at 5:20 at Saratoga Race Course.
The Big Apple Triple, instituted in 1999 has only had one horse win all three legs. Tin Cup Chalice accomplished the feat in 2008. The Big Apple Triple is a great concept by NYRA and Delaware North, the owners of Finger Lakes. It celebrates New York racing, and it offers three races at three distances at three tracks. The seven furlong Mike Lee at Big Sandy, Belmont Park, definitely the biggest and probably the quirkiest track in the world. The 1 1/16 mile New York Derby at Finger Lakes, a track that has been around since 1962, has seen some down times, but thanks to VLTs, has seen its racing improve each and every year. The finale, the 1 1/8 mile Albany Stakes is run at majestic Saratoga Race Course. If loving the Spa is wrong, then who wants to be right? The race is run on a Wednesday, but more people will be there then most tracks would get on a Saturday. The progression from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 to 1 1/8 miles is like most Triple Crown series, requiring horses to complete different tests along the way.
Amberjack has the chance to make a little history, and although the series won’t garner national attention, he could be the toast of New York—and this column—with one more victory.