07/12/2007 12:00AM

Chief's Lake tries to keep bonus alive

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There was little doubt about the next destination for Chief's Lake after his victory in the Mike Lee Stakes last month at Belmont Park.

Hello, Finger Lakes.

Chief's Lake heads the field there Saturday for the $150,000 New York Derby.

The Mike Lee kicked off the Big Apple Triple for New York-bred 3-year-olds, and with the win, Chief's Lake became eligible for the $250,000 bonus paid to the owner of any horse that sweeps the series.

The New York Derby is the second leg of the triple, which concludes with the $150,000 Albany Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 22.

"The bonus definitely made the decision for us," said Toby Sheets, the Belmont assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. "He came out of the last race in very good order. Since then, it's been light maintenance stuff."

Chief's Lake has run well in both his starts this season after an excellent 2-year-old campaign that concluded with three straight wins, including the Sleepy Hollow Stakes for statebreds at Belmont.

He kicked off 2007 with a third to the very tough Bustin Stones in the Screenland Stakes. Chief's Lake followed with a strong performance in the Mike Lee, fending off intense early pressure before posting a 3 1/4-length win that produced a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure.

Channing Hill will ride the gelding for the first time.

In addition to Chief's Lake, the next three finishers from the Mike Lee return for the 1 1/16-mile New York Derby: Stunt Man, Dr. V's Magic, and Berry Bound.

Stunt Man, the Mike Lee runner-up, has turned into a successful claim for trainer Gary Contessa. Taken for $25,000 at Aqueduct in March, the gelding is 1-2-1 in 5 starts since then, with both seconds coming in Belmont stakes: the Mike Lee and the New York Stallion.

Distance will be the main issue as Stunt Man ventures beyond one mile for the first time. He breaks from post 2 with John Grabowski, second in the Finger Lakes standings, aboard for the first time.

"He probably could not be doing any better," Contessa said. "Is two turns a question mark? Yes, but it's still a good spot for him. He's been knocking heads with these guys, and he gets a good post. He needs to try this. We were second in the Mike Lee, and we belong in this race."

* Talking Treasure, winner of Belmont's Bouwerie Stakes in May, heads the card's companion event: the $50,000 Niagara Stakes at six furlongs for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies