07/18/2013 1:17PM

Finger Lakes: West Hills Giant out for reversal in New York Derby

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Amberjack wins the Mike Lee, the first leg of the Big Apple Triple.

A mberjack easily defeated West Hills Giant when they met going seven furlongs in last month’s Mike Lee Stakes at Belmont Park. Will a clean break and the stretch out to two turns be enough for West Hills Giant to turn the tables in Saturday’s $150,000 New York Derby at Finger Lakes?

Amberjack will try to take the next step toward a $250,000 bonus when he faces multiple stakes winner West Hills Giant and four other New York-bred 3-year-olds in the 1 1/16-mile derby, the second leg of the Big Apple Triple. If Amberjack can take the New York Derby and the $150,000 Albany at Saratoga on Aug. 11, he will become the first horse since Tin Cup Chalice in 2008 to sweep all three stakes in the series for statebreds.

Amberjack finished nearly 16 lengths in front of West Hills Giant when he upset the Mike Lee at 12-1 on June 1. West Hills Giant’s chances, however, were compromised when he stumbled badly coming out of the gate. He rebounded nicely to win the Spectacular Bid, a seven-furlong turf race, on June 30. Edgar Prado, who was aboard for the first time, retains the mount.

The versatile West Hills Giant’s last two-turn dirt race produced a solid second in the Grade 3 Gotham in March. In his lone previous trip to Finger Lakes, West Hills Giant won last fall’s $247,000 New York Breeders’ Futurity.

In contrast, Amberjack is unproven going two turns. All three of his lifetime victories have been in one-turn races. In his lone attempt going two turns, Amberjack was eased facing open company in a first-level optional $75,000 claimer at Gulfstream Park.

On the plus side, Amberjack’s trainer, Mike Hushion, has won two previous editions of the New York Derby, scoring with Traffic Chief in 2003 and David in 1999. In addition, Hushion shows a 3-for-8 record (38 percent) with horses like Amberjack switching from sprints to routes in non-graded stakes following a layoff of 31 to 60 days.

Go Get the Basil, a distant third in the Grade 2 Peter Pan in May, returns to facing New York-breds for the first time since winning back-to-back sprints in October and December. Trainer Rick Violette is adding blinkers to Go Get the Basil’s equipment following a runner-up performance that produced a near-peak 92 Beyer Speed Figure going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park.

Smooth Bert, third in the Mike Lee, could benefit if thunderstorms forecast for Saturday turn the track wet. Smooth Bert’s last two races on sloppy and muddy surfaces were wins, including the one-mile Damon Runyon.

Locally based Tequila Hero was beaten less than two lengths by West Hills Giant in last September’s Futurity and has not been worse than second in four starts this season. He returns to a route following a runner-up finish sprinting in the Ontario County.

◗ Ten older New York-bred fillies and mares, including defending champion Lady On the Run, will contest the six-furlong, $50,000 Arctic Queen Handicap. Her challengers include Capella Dancer, winner of the Susan B. Anthony in June; Sing Dixie Sing, winner of her last two starts at Belmont by a combined 12 lengths; and Princess Phoebe, whose five-race winning streak ended when she finished second after leading until deep stretch in the Susan B. Anthony.