08/19/2013 2:43PM

Saratoga: Amberjack eyes $250K bonus for Albany win

Tom Keyser
Amberjack has won the seven-furlong Mike Lee at Belmont Park and 1 1/16-mile New York Derby at Finger Lakes.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With rare exceptions, trainers are always hoping to catch the smallest field possible whenever entering a horse in a stakes race. One of those exceptions will be Wednesday’s $150,000 Albany at Saratoga, the final leg of the Big Apple Triple that offers a $250,000 bonus to the owner of any horse who can sweep all three legs of the series, provided a minimum of six horses start out of the gate in all three races.

Amberjack is eligible for the lucrative bonus, having already won the seven-furlong Mike Lee at Belmont Park and 1 1/16-mile New York Derby at Finger Lakes, beating just five and six rivals, respectively, in those two races. And with only 14 other 3-year-olds even nominated to the Albany, Amberjack’s owner, John Fort, and his trainer, Mike Hushion, spent many an anxious moment until the race was drawn with a field of seven New York-breds that includes the entry of Ego Friendly and In Harm’s Way.

Of course, Fort and Hushion will still have to fret a bit, until the starting gate opens and at least six of those seven horses break out to contest the 1 1/8-mile Albany.

“I’ve been so worried about getting six horses into the starting gate, I haven’t had time to worry about actually winning the race,” Hushion said. “But he’s a pretty straightforward horse. He’s such an easy horse to train and does everything right, I don’t see why he won’t run big again. And the extra distance shouldn’t be a problem, since he’s been pretty much of a push-button horse all along.”

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Hushion said he would leave race strategy up to rider Junior Alvarado.

“He’s ridden him before and worked him about five times in the morning and knows this horse pretty well,” Hushion said.

Smooth Bert, who finished a distant second behind Amberjack after contesting the early pace in the New York Derby and third in the Mike Lee, will come back for a third shot at that nemesis in the Albany. Smooth Bert will be reunited with jockey Mike Luzzi, who guided him to victory last fall in the Damon Runyon Stakes.

“The key is getting my horse to relax,” trainer Leah Gyarmati said. “If the rider could have gotten him to relax in the New York Derby, I think he’d have had a little more left at the finish.”

In Harm’s Way, who was previously trained by Hushion, will come down from Finger Lakes, where he has been under the tutelage of Christopher Progno this summer. In Harm’s Way has not started since finishing third after leading into the stretch in the 6 1/2-furlong New York Stallion Stakes at Belmont on May 5 and figures to be the pacesetter stretching out to nine furlongs for the Albany.

Escapefromreality, beaten a neck by Revolutionary in the Grade 3 Withers during the winter, has been idle since dominating a first-level statebred optional-claiming race at Belmont on July 4.

Seventy Six, a statebred allowance winner going a mile in his last start, and Go Get the Basil, a distant fourth in the New York Derby, complete the field.

– additional reporting by David Grening