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Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Classic

- "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.


Anonymous said...

Over heard coversation between Lava Man and Bernardini. Lava Man. "I'm gonna kick your ass." Bernardini. "Well you're going to have a real good view of it from the quarter pole, home." I read the inevitable "length of stride" article last week on Bernardini. Secretariat, 24.8 feet, Bernardini, 26.4 feet. Urban myth or fact? I don't know, forget the competition where Bernardini is concerned. Look at the effort, or ease there of, and he looks like a once in every 30 years horse. His detractors are hanging on to the "wait till they look him in the eye" theory. That's fine, but what do they do when Bernardini looks back? Nick

Michael said...

Even if he wins this race, I don't know how anyone can say he's a a "once in 30 years" kind of horse.

Let me be clear, I don't hate him, I like him alot. But I think a sample of 9 races is too few to declare him Horse of the New Century. I just look at him in the same area as a Ghostzapper or Mineshaft who had great years, were great horses... but that no one is talking about today.

I agree with Alan, unless he runs as a 4-year old (or unless he blows the hoofs off of everyone on Saturday) I'm not sure we'll ever know that he's "the one."

A question: What if he only beats Perfect Drift by a head instead of the field by 10 lengths? Is he the new-Secretariat then?

Anonymous said...

Can not add anything to your analisis except to say that historically this race has been fair to all geographic areas and running styles. The best preps have been the Woodward and Goodwood, which is the only angle you can apply that would eliminate Berny. I will instead use it to try to hit the triple.

I love Berny and, while it might shorten the winning marging, I think if they want to they can go straight to the front, duel the greatest claim ever into defeat, and still hold off the rest of this bunch.

I hate the Euros and agree Lava Man likely will fade after seeing Berny's butt draw off in front of him. Invasor is very unlikely off a layoff.

I tried to make a case for the Californians and, besides pure speed figures and listening to TVG announcers, the only way I could do so was by noting Super Frolics surprising 4th place finish last year. Since then, all shippers out of Cali have not classed up, so leaning toward the Woodward for the remaining exotic slots.

Sun King is my exacta horse, race sets up for his late run, thought he was much the best in the Woodward, patient jock over did the patience thing riding much too confidently.

Premium Tap and Suave (5th beaten 3 lenghts last year) begin the third slot on the ticket, and for a price will lob "horse for the course" Giacomo and Super Frolic (4th beten 3 lengths last year) underneath as I could envision either clunking up for third if the race falls apart after Berny blows the prime contenders away.

I hope ESPN keeps the battle for second in the picture at Bernardini runs away in the stretch.

I cant beleive I am rooting for the Sheikh's horse over the everyman story, but I too feel I have been in the presence of greatness, so...

"Go Bernardini!!!!!!!"

Anonymous said...

One comment about David Junior, I dont care if he is bred to handle the dirt or not, racing horses goes beyond breeding. Horses are creatures of habit, and David Junior has never developed the habit of having dirt thrown back at him. And he is sure to have some dirt heaped on him in here. The BC Classic is the last place to find out how he will handle that. Anyone remember Starcraft (NZ) last year, the images of him galloping in the morning on the main track with a horse in front of him kicking dirt in his face? That owner supplemented that horse to the tune of 250000(?) to find out what everyone else already knew. BC day is not the day to be asking your horse to do something he has never done before. Nick

Anonymous said...

To Skip, I did'nt say he WAS a once every 30 years horse, I said he looked like one. And the days of a horse really proving himself are over. It's a new game now, they dont carry weight, they dont try different surfaces as a rule, they dont ship to go head to head with the best around. So in today's game Bernardini may well be declared a great horse by the standards of todays game. Hey the two best horses I ever saw are dead. Dr Fager and Secretariat. So put me in the "I long for the old days" category too. But this is todays game and 4 year olds, high weight handicaps are like the Beta Max, the Yugo and MC Hammer, a thing of the past. And what's with all the love for Sun King? A horse who's best races have never been at this distance. He tops out at mile and eighth and probably likes one and sixteenth better. Nick

Anonymous said...

I think if he wins easily Saturday, its safe to say that Bernardini has proven himself to be one of the top 50 or 60 horses ever. What's sad is that assuming he's retired we'll never know whether he's good enough to be in the top 10 or 20, although he certainly looks like he could be. Its interesting to note that from about 1900-1920 most of the great racehorses ran less than 15 career races, just like today. Anybody know why? - Alex

Anonymous said...

Another question. I saw on one of the TBA blogs (can't remember which one) that some horse in Australia may run in big races 4 days apart, and it seemed to be implied that this was considered fairly typical over there. Anybody have any insight into this?

Anonymous said...

One last question for everyone. What do you consider the 5 'best' races since 1970 (chosen because that's when I was born)? I've been thinking about this a lot lately and will post my picks later...but basically the races I chose generally fit the criteria of "great horses performing well in situations with historical importance". - Alex

Alan Mann said...

>>What do you consider the 5 'best' races since 1970 (chosen because that's when I was born)? I've been thinking about this a lot lately and will post my picks later...but basically the races I chose generally fit the criteria of "great horses performing well in situations with historical importance".

OK, I'll bite on that.

1) Personal Ensign's Distaff...the greatest race I've ever seen without being there.

2) Affirmed over Alydar in the Belmont...the greatest race I've ever been to.

3) Secretariat's Belmont

4) Forego, carrying 137 pounds, rallies to catch Honest Pleasure at the wire of the 1976 Marlboro Cup. He was conceding him 18 pounds.

5) Ferdinand nips Alysheba in the 1987 Classic in a matchup of Kentucky Derby winners. When will we ever see the likes of that again?

Anonymous said...

My top 5 were:

1. Personal Ensign's Distaff.
2. Affirmed/Alydar in the Belmont.
3. Secretariat's Belmont.
4. 1998 Belmont...I realize Real Quiet and Victory Gallop weren't great horses, but there was a triple crown on the line, a thrilling finish, and the visual of the stretch run was even more impressive then Personal Ensign because there were no other horses in between.
5. 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup - Two Triple Crown winners get into a speed duel and run the first 6F of a 1 1/2 mile race in 1:09 and change, and Exceller comes from 22 lengths back to catch them at the head of the stretch...and then somehow Seattle Slew is able to battle him for the lead the length of the stretch. I think this is probably the greatest LOSING effort in the history of American racing, and probably the best race of Seattle Slew's career. If you've never seen the video of this race, go watch it. There's a site with it up...I think its

Honorable mention to Easy Goer vs. Sunday Silence in the Preakness.

- Alex

Anonymous said...

RE Sun King,

While it is true he stopped badly in all three starts over 9 furlongs, he was ridden differently back then.

Now that he has adopted a rate and close style which should fit this race perfectly. The distance remains a question mark for sure, but i thought he was best in the key prep race so I have to include him.

Mr. Ed

Anonymous said...

David Junior remains a huge question mark on dirt, but he's been training on polytrack for a good long time, and i'd have to imagine he turned in a very nice furlong or two @ the Fasig-Tipton sale a couple of years ago. Nick's 100% right, it's not the smae as doing it in a race, so we'll see. But i think the difference in price between he and horses Lava Man/Invasor more than makes up for it. Incidentally, i think Lava Man's ability to handle a non-California surface is just as big a question as the David Junior thing.

Anonymous said...

Btw, it's worth pointing out that David Junior has beaten better horses than anyone else in the race, namely Pride and Ouija Board. A couple of mares, go figure. Strange case of a 15/1 shot holding the class edge.

Anonymous said...

Secretariat's Preakness may have been the most incredible effort I have ever seen by a race horse. All the races mentioned in here are worthy, but that race took my breath away, and then he follows it up with a world record in the Belmont. Nick