05/30/2013 4:19PM

Belmont Park: Weekend Hideaway returns in Mike Lee Stakes


ELMONT, N.Y. – After hitting the refresh button twice with Weekend Hideaway since the end of his 2-year-old campaign, trainer Phil Serpe believes he’s got his multiple stakes winner back at his best. Weekend Hideaway will face New York-breds for the first time this season when he returns in Saturday’s $125,000 Mike Lee Stakes at Belmont Park.

The Lee is the first leg of the Big Apple Triple for statebreds, which continues with the $150,000 New York Derby at Finger Lakes on July 20 and concludes with the $150,000 Albany at Saratoga on Aug. 21. There is a $250,000 bonus for the connections of any horse who wins all three races.

Weekend Hideaway, who won statebred stakes at both Saratoga and Belmont at 2, will have to be at the top of his game to win the seven-furlong Mike Lee, which drew a strong field of nine including the Grade 3-placed West Hills Giant, stakes winners Smooth Bert and Belief System, along with the undefeated Hay Shares.

Weekend Hideaway has faced open company in his only two starts at 3. He finished fifth following a 3 1/2-month layoff in the Grade 2 Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park and fifth again in Aqueduct’s Fred Capossela before getting another little break earlier this spring.

“We freshened him up at the end of his 2-year-old season and then again after his last start at Aqueduct,” Serpe said. “Some horses just don’t like that climate in Florida. We had a little trouble keeping weight on him and his coat wasn’t right, so we just backed off him again this spring. Sometimes you just have to take a step back, catch your breath, and then try to move forward again.”

Serpe said Weekend Hideaway couldn’t be doing better coming into the Lee, his four works at Belmont over the past month highlighted by a 59.60-second bullet five-eighths drill on May 16.

“His works have been awesome, he’s got a nice post breaking from the outside, and I expect him to run well,” said Serpe, who will reunite Weekend Hideaway with Jose Lezcano, his regular rider at 2, for the first time this season.

Trainer John Terranova gave West Hills Giant a bit of a break following his 12th-place finish in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 13. West Hills Giant, a son of Frost Giant, broke from post 12 in the 14-horse field and was hung wide throughout the nine-furlong Blue Grass.

West Hills Giant earned a trip to the Blue Grass by finishing second behind Vyjack when equipped in blinkers for the first time in the Grade 3 Gotham. The Mike Lee will be West Hills Giant’s first start against statebreds since he won the six-furlong New York Breeders’ Futurity last fall at Finger Lakes.

“We had originally been pointing for the Wood coming out of the Gotham, but he had a little respiratory deal and it got us a bit off schedule so we waited for the Blue Grass,” Terranova said. “I don’t think he really handled the synthetic at Keeneland, so we just gave him a few easy weeks to regroup and point for the New York-bred races. He’s had three nice breezes in a row, and cutting back to seven furlongs should be fine. You never like breaking from the rail, but the reason I put blinkers on him before the Gotham was because he seemed to hesitate coming inside horses in his previous start. So it should help him if he gets bottled up in close quarters again.”

Belief System has won both his starts since moving into trainer Rudy Rodriguez’s barn earlier this year. His most recent victory was a half-length decision in Belmont’s New York Stallion Stakes on May 5.

Smooth Bert captured Aqueduct’s Damon Runyon in his 2-year-old finale, while Hay Shares is perfect in three starts for trainer Linda Rice. Each of those three wins have come on the lead, including a hard-fought neck decision against older, second-level optional claiming opposition over a sloppy track May 9.