07/31/2007 11:00PM

West Point group riding high


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Terry Finley hopes Flashy Bull's seventh-place finish in last Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap was just a bump in the road that has thus far been paved in black and gold success stories in 2007.

Finley, 43, is the president of West Point Thoroughbreds, a racing syndicate that is enjoying a career year on the track. Through the first seven months of 2007, West Point has won the first two Grade 1 races in its 16-year existence and has banked more than $2.2 million. It has 37 wins from 148 starters.

The next month will be chock full of Grade 1 opportunities for West Point, both at Saratoga and at Del Mar.

Saturday, Dream Rush will wear the black and gold silks of West Point as the favorite or second choice in the $250,000 Test Stakes here. On Aug. 18, Lear's Princess, runner-up in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, is expected to run in the $600,000 Alabama, possibly against Rags to Riches. The following day, at Del Mar in Southern California, Awesome Gem will represent West Point in the $1 million Pacific Classic. On Sept. 1, West Point could have runners in both Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga, with High Finance being pointed to the $250,000 Forego and Flashy Bull possibly returning in the $500,000 Woodward.

"It's been a good year,'' said Finley, the founder of West Point and a former Army captain and airborne ranger. "You just know that sooner or later horses that run well, in all likelihood they're going to back up a little bit; there's not a whole lot we can do about it. We're hoping we can extend it a little bit further. I hope we don't get to the end of this meet and look back and say I guess the Saratoga meet was the end of the line.''

This year, West Point has certainly moved that line further than ever. On June 16, Flashy Bull gave West Point its first Grade 1 victory when he won the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Three weeks later, Dream Rush won the Grade 1 Prioress just three days after High Finance won the Grade 2 Tom Fool at Belmont. Awesome Gem, who won the Grade 2 San Fernando Handicap in January, recently finished second in the San Diego Handicap.

According to Finley, West Point has approximately 400 individuals who are partners in 80 horses. West Point employs four trainers - Rick Violette and Kiaran McLaughlin on the East Coast, Dallas Stewart in Kentucky, and Craig Dollase in Southern California.

The stable has been more active at auction, even partnering with some breeders in order to buy a higher-quality horse. For example, West Point owns a third of Dream Rush along with John Sikura of Hill 'n Dale Farm and Lewis Lakin. West Point and Lakin own the 2-year-old Irish Smoke, who was scheduled to run Thursday here.

"We can go to the sale and we got double the firepower, that really helps us,'' Finley said. "The deeper you are the better you are.''

Finley said that having Dream Rush running in Saturday's Test "certainly helps'' get over the disappointment of Flashy Bull's Whitney effort. Still, given Flashy Bull had reeled off four consecutive victories after winning just once in his first 14 starts, there was little to be upset about in the Whitney.

"Flashy Bull doesn't owe the stable or the partners anything,'' Finley said. "He's what we all get in the business for. You're on the biggest stage of the year almost. They all can't get the job done, but when you see the excitement in the partners' faces it's a very cool part of the job.''

Dream Rush has given West Point plenty to get excited about in her career. Purchased for $285,000 out of the Ocala Breeders' sale in February 2006, Dream Rush couldn't break 50 seconds for a half-mile workout last summer. But she was quick enough to win her debut by 6 1/2 lengths during the Belmont meet. She won a first-level allowance race at Churchill Downs in October before shipping to Florida.

After a troubled trip resulted in a second-place finish in January at Gulfstream, Dream Rush won the Grade 2 Old Hat at Gulfstream and Grade 2 Nassau County at Belmont. In the Grade 1 Acorn, Dream Rush was sent off the 3-5 favorite and had a three-length lead at the quarter pole only to be run down by Cotton Blossom.

"That was a disappointment, but you're in a pretty good spot when you're disappointed running second in a Grade 1 on Belmont Stakes Day,'' Finley said. "She's been very, very exciting, we just don't know how far she's going to go. I'm really excited about a rematch with Cotton Blossom.''

In addition to the established stakes stars, West Point has several 2-year-olds that bear watching. It spent $575,000 at auction for a 2-year-old son of Private Vow named Grand Vow, trained by Violette. Pygmalion is a New York-bred son of Freud trained by McLaughlin who could debut this weekend. Macho Again, a son of Macho Uno, is working towards his debut for Stewart.

In addition to upgrading West Point's stable, Finley has become an active and vocal leader among horsemen. He is on the board of directors of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and an investor in Empire Racing Associates, one of the bidders seeking the franchise to run racing at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.

"I'm very confident that whatever happens in five years, the horsemen are going to be in a better spot than if we just had sat on the sidelines and said 'I hope we fare well in this,' '' Finley said.