Two days before the Breeders' Cup World Championships, Doug O'Neill, trainer of Lava Man, Sharp Lisa, and Great Hunter; and Tom Albertrani, trainer of Bernardini and Balletto, discussed the chances of their stars leading up to their respective races.
"We're very excited about Great Hunter," said O'Neill of the son of Aptitude
, who is slated to run in the Bessemer Trust Juvenile (gr. I). "My brother and Paul Reddam bought him out of Texas. His pedigree says he should have no problem with the distance, and I'm real proud of the way he ran at Keeneland," he added of Great Hunter's victory in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) Oct. 7.
"I think this guy sitting next to me has the two horses that are the 'toughies,'" O'Neill said, referring to Todd Pletcher's Circular Quay and Scat Daddy. "It's a wide open race and I'm sure with a full field like that, the luck of the trip will play into it. We're happy with where we are right now."
O'Neill said Lava Man, who will compete in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I), is a horse that tends not to show his best efforts while working alone. "It took him awhile to get going, but running in (claiming races) is bigger out West," added O'Neill of the beginning of California-bred Lava Man's career.
Of Lava Man receiving third choice odds at the post position draw Nov. 1, O'Neill explained, "The bottom line is, we still have a former claimer that hasn't won outside of California. We still have to prove ourselves. Bernardini has not only been impressive in New York, but also in Florida and Maryland, and he's very well-bred.
"We like what we're bringing--we think Lava Man is doing exceptional, but we realize our numbers. After we won the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), the owners and I huddled up and decided to go about this trip from California a little differently--ship three weeks early and really have him settle in as well as he could. Hopefully we'll get good results on Saturday."
Taking a look at the European horses running in the Classic against Bernardini, Albertrani remained mostly positive. "They've certainly established themselves as good horses in Europe, but the question that always remains is how they will handle the dirt," Albertani said of David Junior and Invasor.
Of Bernardini continuing his career next year, Albertrani noted, "I don't think I really have a whole lot of say in that. The owners (Darley Stable) haven't told me what's going to happen after the Breeders' Cup--whether he'll stay in training or not. We probably won't know the answer to that question until after the weekend."
Albertrani admitted the Classic field looked to be "the most difficult task (Bernardini) has had to face." He said though the colt went against fierce competition in the Travers (gr. I) at Saratoga in August, "This will be even tougher, going up against Lava Man, Invasor, and the rest of them, but I still feel very confident that he's doing well."
If he continues to post the same kind of efforts he has in his previous six undefeated starts, Abertrani thinks his colt will be "very difficult himself to beat."