For Amberjack, the Albany Stakes was the one that got away.
Named for a saltwater gamefish, Amberjack couldn’t get past Escapefromreality in the stretch and fell a little short of earning a big bonus at Saratoga Race Course on Wednesday.
Racing for the first time since July 4, Escapefromreality and Javier Castellano won the $150,000 race for New York-breds by two lengths to deny Amberjack $250,000 for completing the Big Apple Triple.
That left Tin Cup Chalice (2008) as the only horse to win the Triple since the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Fund began the program in 1999.
Escapefromreality, co-owned by MeB Racing Stables and Brooklyn Boyz Stables, ran in the Grade III Withers and Gotham in February and March, but returned to state-bred competion at Belmont Park on July 4, a 31⁄2-length win that put the Albany on his team’s radar.
“Our plan from July 4 was to run him in this race,” trainer Dominick Schettino said. “Javier’s been working him right along, and he’s been training up to this race in excellent shape.”
Amberjack was in position to win the bonus after having won the first two legs of the Big Apple Triple, the Mike Lee at Belmont Park and the New York Derby at Finger Lakes.
Ridden by Junior Alvarado, who was on for the Mike Lee but was replaced by Jose Espinoza for the New York Derby because of riding commitments in Saratoga, Amberjack, the 3-5 betting favorite, hung just off the flank of Escapefromreality for most of the race.
From the outside, he swung through the turn with Escapefromreality, and it looked like a tight duel was materializing as they straigtened in the stretch.
At the eighth pole, Escapefromreality gradually drew away.
“We were in the right place, laying second to him,” said Amberjack’s trainer, Mike Hushion, who graciously went out of his way to shake hands with the winning connections. “It was our horse’s race to take at the top of the stretch, if he was good enough today. I think he was second best, tip our hat to the winner and try to figure out how to beat him next time.”
“He ran good, he tried, he was in a perfect spot,” Alvarado said. “He just didn’t go by the other horse today. The other horse, he ran pretty good, too. I don’t really have much excuse.”
Escapefromreality, a son of Read the Footnotes bred by Brooklyn Boyz, enjoyed comfortable early fractions of 24.56 for the quarter-mile, 49.20 for the half and 1:13.37 for six furlongs in the nine-furlong Albany.
“The way it set up, the pace was phenomenal for myself and my horse,” Castellano said. “The way I handicapped the race, there could have been other horses go to the lead. I broke out of the gate on top, and it worked out great. The heavy favorite looked like he was going to go by, and I was very fortunate my horse had something left in the tank.”
“Depending on how he broke out of the gate, I left it up to Javier,” Schettino said. “This horse, once he’s competitive and up in front, he tries as hard as he can to stay in front. Amberjack’s a nice horse, too.”
Ego Friendly scratched from the Albany, leaving six horses in the field, the minimum required for the $250,000 bonus to still be in play.