06/23/2006 12:00AM

Baby Rusch, Raceland top Mike Lee


ELMONT, N.Y. - , who each was a big-figure winner of a first-level allowance race in his last start, appear the main contenders in Sunday's 27th running of the $100,000 Mike Lee Stakes.

A field of eight 3-year-old New York-breds entered the seven-furlong Mike Lee, the first leg of a three-race series for statebreds called the Big Apple Triple. The Mike Lee is followed by the New York Derby at Finger Lakes on July 15 and the Albany at Saratoga on Aug. 23.

A $250,000 bonus awaits any horse that sweeps the three races, a feat that has yet to be accomplished.

Also entered Sunday are .

Classic Pack, winner of the New York Breeders' Futurity and the New York Stallion Series last year, is the most accomplished member of the field, and the only stakes winner, but he will have to improve off a pair of fourth-place finishes since coming back from a layoff.

Baby Rusch, on the other hand, need only maintain the form that propelled him to a smashing allowance win in his second start of the year, for which he received a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 - a figure higher than it took to win many recent graded stakes, including the Belmont Stakes and the Stephen Foster.

"He's been a real surprise," said trainer Bruce Levine. "He kept getting sick on me. He probably got sick two or three separate times during the winter. Finally, I had to stop on him in order to give him some extra time to get over it."

From three starts, Baby Rusch's only loss was a runner-up finish off a layoff against My Dynomite, who is 3 for 3 and who probably would have been favored in the Mike Lee had he not been sidelined indefinitely by a serious knee injury.

"He ran a little green and sluggish that day," said Levine of Baby Rusch. "Leading up to his second race this year, he was training really well and I thought he'd move forward."

Raceland also moved forward last out, winning off by five lengths in his fifth attempt at the first-level condition and earning a Beyer of 98.