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Meet Bernardini - Classic Winner

T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Picks

It would have been easy to miss it with everything else going on, but a horse did actually win the Preakness on Saturday. Bernardini ran an impressive race that will forever be marked with an asterisk. Sweetnorthernsaint brought the lead into the stretch, but then Bernardini, who had been stalking the whole race, pounced and ran away with it. The asterisk is not only because Barbaro didn't finish the race, but also because Bernardini had a trip very similar to what Barbaro would have had. A stretch duel between the two horses would have been likely and, judging by what we have seen from both horses, it would have been spectacular.

Now Barbaro is out and Bernardini sits at the top of the three year old pile. Though he followed a unique path to get there, his ascension certainly cannot be called a fluke. To glance at his pedigree is like looking at the horse racing hall of fame. His sire, A.P. Indy, won the Belmont and the Breeders Cup Classic. Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Secretariat are on his sire side. His dam, Cara Rafaela, was a Grade 1 winner. Her sire, Quiet American, is the sire of Real Quiet, who came within a nose of a Triple Crown. Her family also includes dual classic winners Northern Dancer and Spectacular Bid, along with huge names like Fappiano and his sire, Mr. Prospector. In other words, the fact that this horse can run is no fluke, because that's exactly what he was bred to do.

What makes Bernardini's Preakness win so noteworthy is that it was only his fourth career start. Even more remarkable, it was his first race at a distance over a mile, and his first race around more than one turn. Despite it all he looked like a seasoned pro. That wasn't the case in his first start on Jan. 7 at Gulfstream. He started poorly, never recovered, and lost by more than 5 lengths over 6 furlongs. Two months later he had obviously figured out how to win, cruising to a 7 length victory over a mile at Gulfstream. He was off for eight more weeks until he again coasted to a win over a mile in the Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. He won by 3 lengths even though jockey Javier Castellano had dropped his whip. The Preakness was a huge jump in class, but Bernardini certainly didn't seem out of place.

If you are a believer in fate, here's an angle you'll like. One of the most significant breakdowns in recent history was Horse of the Year Holy Bull in the 1995 Donn Handicap. When he pulled up, the rest of the race was overshadowed. Super horse Cigar was the forgotten winner that day on route to 16 straight wins and two Horse of the Year titles. Cigar's assistant trainer was Tom Albertrani. Albertrani is also the trainer of this year's forgotten horse, Bernardini. He'll be looking to catch lightning in a bottle a second time with this horse.

Bernardini isn't confirmed for the Belmont yet. Owner Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai has yet to decide if he wants to make it the next race for the horse. Albertrani seems keen to go, so hopefully the Sheik will do the right thing and enter his horse in New York. Just in case, and in case the Sheik reads this, here are the arguments to choose to run Bernardini in the race:

The Distance - With a pedigree like he has, there is no question about the ability to handle the distance, because so many of the horses in his line have been successful at a mile and a half. He jumped from a mile to 1 3/16 last time out and by the end he looked like he could have done another lap.

The Trainer - Albertrani is no stranger to top level racing, but he is new to the Triple Crown. His first two starters have come this year. Deputy Glitters was 8th in the Derby. That means he's batting .500 lifetime in Triple Crown starts. He's obviously not too intimidated by the TC experience.

The Jockey - Javier Castellano is still relatively young, but he is proving that he is talented. His win on Bernardini came in his first ever Preakness and only his third Triple Crown race. He has been to the Belmont before, so he knows what to expect and he clearly has the skill to get it done.

Well Rested? - The Preakness was only Bernardini's fourth start since Jan. 7. There is no reason for this horse to be anything but fit and ready to run.

The Field - There are some solid horses lining up to take a shot at the Belmont. Solid, but not great. The three favorites in the Derby are all off the trail. Sweetnorthernsaint was the Derby favorite and Bernardini passed him like he was standing still. There are horses that can provide a challenge to Bernardini, but none that have given us any reason to think that they are better than Bernardini.

Experience - Sure, winning the Belmont after just four career starts is practically unprecedented, but then so is winning the Preakness after only three career starts. Inexperience doesn't look like it will be a factor anymore for this horse.

What does it all mean? Well, Bernardini was, in my mind, one of the top four horses in the Preakness. He crushed two of the other horses and the third broke down. He's suited for the Belmont, the field sets up well for him and his connections won't let him down. In other words, I've got my place on the Bernardini bandwagon and I'll save you a seat.

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