- "Go Bernardini!!!" wrote Walter. Right on, I thought when I read that (until I realized that he's saying that at least partly because he has a future bet at inflated odds).
Sometimes I wonder why I am rooting for him to win, and to win impressively. He's owned by a filthy rich sheikh and is probably going to retire after only eight races so he can make even more money. For a man of his means and supposed sporting nature, it seems a small sacrifice to bring him back for one more year. It would cost him less in one year of lost stud fees than he spends in the space of 90 seconds for unproven yearlings at the sales pavilion. The Classic would be a much nicer story if Lava Man won.
But there's something about having the firm knowledge that I was in the presence of true greatness that puts everything else aside. I won't be at the Breeders Cup, but I saw Bernardini (AP Indy) win the Jim Dandy (Galloped under wraps) and Travers (In control, drew off) at Saratoga, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Under wraps stretch). I stood on the backstretch of Saratoga and watched him work out twice, even though I didn't know it at the time.
Some people scoff at the notion that a horse that raced only eight times and never conceded weight to opponents could ever be classifed with the great handicaps horses of the all-too-distant past. But greatness comes in different forms. Here in the early 21st century, when it comes to colts anyway, the fleeting form of greatness is the only one we're likely to see. It's fair to question the quality and quantity of who he's been facing, as Scoop did in reaction to a writer speculating that Bernardini could be acclaimed as one of the all time greats. But it was the effortlessness with which he won that made those races so amazing. You just don't see horses dominate Grade 1 horses with that consistency and absurd ease. That's what makes Bernardini great.
Pending the Classic of course.
So how could he lose? Haskin jokingly (I think) presents a scenario in which Kent Desormeaux guns Suave to the lead.
No one is going to be paying much attention to you. Lava Man will be watching for Bernardini, who will be watching Lava Man and Invasor, who will be watching Bernardini and Lava Man. Who would be foolish enough to go after a horse who just finished dead-last in the Woodward (gr. I)? [Bloodhorse]Ah...not likely.
Somewhat less fanciful is this scenario presented by the Saratogian's Jeff Scott:
It's one thing to run away from an honest but limited horse like Wanderin Boy or an injured Bluegrass Cat. But what if Bernardini has Lava Man stay with him for 9 ½ furlongs, and then has to deal with Invasor -- and maybe Sun King and even George Washington -- over the final sixteenth? What if it turns out there really is a Racing God, and Perfect Drift finally uncorks the big, dramatic finish his fans have been awaiting for the past five years? It could still get interesting.Could it? One thing for sure, if Bernardini can stalk Lava Man and then ease by him the way he's done to lesser opponents, then he must truly be great. Lava Man (Slew City Slew) is as tough as they come - he literally ran himself into exhaustion last year in the Pacific Classic and had to be vanned off. His brave performance in the Hollywood Gold Cup remains one of the best of the year.
I think that Castellano would do well to try and pilot Bernardini as he did in the Preakness; let Lava Man do his thing, along with Brother Derek, perhaps Suave and Lawyer Ron, and unleash a sweeping burst past the field in upper stretch. I don't think he wants to get involved in a protracted duel with Lava Man. That's the only scenario I can see in which he could possibly lose. I don't think it would be to Lava Man; but rather, they would set the race up for someone else.
I don't like Invasor (Candy Stripes). He suffered a serious setback in training when forced to miss the Gold Cup, and there's no way he could be where McLaughlin would want him to be. I agree with Nick when he wrote that This is a case of we have to run him, its the Breeder's Cup.
Sun King (Charismatic) hasn't run a bad race since turning his career around at Keeneland in April. Unfortunately, he also hasn't won since that day, but he's unleashed his rally every time. As a dead closer, he cedes his ability to control his own fate, but if, by some strange chance, this race falls apart up front, he could be the prime candidate to pass them all.
David Junior (Pleasant Tap) hasn't raced since taking the Eclipse Stakes in July, and he'll retire to Japan after this race. We know that he's bred to handle the dirt - his half brother Kid Carousel is a winner on the dirt, and he's out of an Irish River half sister to Wild Event. But I think he's more bred for the grass; this is the direct family of Paradise Creek and Theatrical. I have no clue how he'll do on the dirt, and neither do you I don't believe, but he's a high-quality horse running at his best distance.
Premium Tap (Pleasant Tap) seems to be a wise-guy horse based on his improvement in the Woodward, and the 5th in the Kentucky Cup that can be easily explained away. I think it's a stretch, despite the fact that he beat Sun King in the Woodward. Perfect Drift (Dynaformer) closed in 11.4 to get second despite being blocked at the eighth pole in the Kentucky Cup; and as we know, in his prior race, the track at Del Mar was tailored to his detriment for the Pacific Classic. Starting with his first Classic in 2002, he's finished 12th, 6th, 4th, and 3rd. What kind of exacta would he create behind Bernardini?
Giacomo (Holy Bull) is one-for-one at Churchill. George Washington (Danehill) is getting a little vacation abroad before beginning his stud career. Think of how much money they're leaving on the table by not running in the Mile.
Likes: Go Bernardini!!!
Against: As much as I admire Lava Man and I think he'll most definitely be a factor, he'll be facing the direct wrath of Bernardini, and as second choice no less. If the latter really has the extra gear that he's hinted at so strongly, Lava Man could well finish clear out of the money. Also don't like Invasor, George Washington, Suave, Brother Derek, Giacomo. If any of those finish in the money I likely won't win.
Exotics: I'm thinking that I'll try to make some money using Bernardini on top with Sun King, Perfect Drift, David Junior, and thinking about Premium Tap.