Mike Hushion skirted past a swarm of people in the winner’s circle after Wednesday’s Albany Stakes and shook hands with Anthony Bonomo.
Escapefromreality, owned by Bonomo’s Brooklyn Boyz Stable and MeB Racing Stable, had just upset the Hushion-trained Amberjack, squelching the Big Apple Triple, which pays a $250,000 bonus to the horse who sweeps the Mike Lee, New York Derby and Albany. Amberjack had won the first two legs and came into the Albany as the heavy favorite. At the head of the stretch, Amberjack drew on even terms with Escapefromreality but failed to see out the 9 furlongs, falling 2 lengths short of sweeping the bonus.
Bonomo was impressed with his horse – and Hushion.
“I’m sorry, Mike,” Bonomo said.
“That’s horse racing,” came Hushion’s reply.
“He’s a class act,” Bonomo said. “It’s so exciting, you don’t think of the other little things, if I was in a race and somebody beat me, I’m hoping I would have done the same thing. I think I would have, but you don’t know.”
Bonomo didn’t need to find out Wednesday as Escapefromreality commandeered the lead and never let it go in the $150,000 New York-bred stakes. Javier Castellano placed the son of Read The Footnotes on the lead through a quarter-mile in :24.56 as Amberjack pulled into second and Smooth Bert pulled his way into third. Seventy Six, In Harm’s Way and Go Get The Basil pushed from the back, forming a tight pack of six after a half in :49.30.
Around the turn, Escapefromreality led by a half-length over Amberjack who separated from Smooth Bert and the rest. At the quarter pole, Junior Alvarado gunned Amberjack to the outside of Escapefromreality, but the leader counter-punched. In strides, the bonus was on the rocks.
“When Junior made that move, but he didn’t go by, when he hesitated, my horse saw the other horse and really tried,” Castellano said. “I kept him close to keep his focus on the other horse, I put him right together, ‘Let’s go, best horse wins the race.’ “
Amberjack worked from the quarter pole to the sixteenth pole but couldn’t get past the leader, who eventually drew off to win by a comfortable 2 lengths. Smooth Bert finished third. Escapefromreality, a homebred gelding, finished 9 furlongs in 1:51.61.
Escapefromreality won for the third time in six starts. Trained by Dominick Schettino, the bay gelding won his debut at Aqueduct in November and finished second in his next start, beaten a neck to Go Get The Basil. In February, he nearly upset the Grade 3 Withers, when failing by a neck to Revolutionary, who would go on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. After the Gotham, Schettino wheeled him back a month later and he was drummed by Vyjack in the Grade 3 Gotham. After that, owners and trainer conferred and aimed at a second-level state-bred allowance July 4. He won that convincingly, snapping a three-race losing streak, then aimed at the Albany.
Schettino blamed the Gotham loss on timing and decided to take his time before and after the July allowance effort.
“I think I ran him back too soon in the Gotham, he ran hard coming off a sprint race into a mile and a sixteenth, he breezed good, but sometimes they fool you,” Schettino said. “I talked to the owners, that was our plan, run in the allowance race and wait for the Albany, we wanted enough time between races. That’s what we learned in the Gotham.”
Castellano guided Escapefromreality to win the allowance and stayed in the camp to prepare for the Albany. The jockey guided Escapefromreality through his two most recent works, a 5-furlong move on the main track July 31 and another Aug. 12. The works convinced Castellano that the untried distance wouldn’t be a problem.
“I was confident, we’ve been working three-quarters and letting him gallop out,” Castellano said. “Nobody in the race wanted to go a mile-and-an-eighth, it was all about who saved the most horse for the end. I knew my horse wasn’t going to get tired, he’s been training longer and training phenomenally.”
After listening to Castellano, Schettino was confident.
“I wasn’t concerned, we knew he could get the distance, Javier knew he could get the distance after working him in the morning,” the trainer said. “He’s a versatile horse, he’ll sprint, he’ll go long, he doesn’t have to be on the lead, he can come from off the pace, he’ll do anything you ask him to do.”
After listening to Schettino, Bonomo was confident.
“I try not to get too overconfident, but Dominic all along said, ‘Anthony, I think this horse can get the distance and he’s going to surprise us,’ ” Bonomo said. “Listen, we were confident, but you can’t get too confident. We felt good. These are good horses, anything can happen. There’s one way to win, a thousand ways to lose.”
Hushion knew all about that.
Hot in the paddock, Amberjack ran hard but couldn’t reel in the winner while attempting the distance for the first time. Peachtree Stable’s colt lost for the first time since Hushion began training him this year. The bonus, unclaimed since Tin Cup Chalice in 2008, will wait for another year.