Darley Stable's Classic winner Bernardini coasted to victory in nearly gate to wire fashion in the $500,000 Jim Dandy (gr. II) under sloppy conditions Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Under a chilly Javier Castellano, the lightly raced bay A.P. Indy
colt established himself as the overwhelming favorite for the Travers (gr. I) on Aug. 26. Bernardini, carrying top weight of 123 pounds, completed the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds in 1:50 2/5 on a track listed as "sloppy" following heavy thunderstorms earlier in the day.
The victory was the fourth in succession for Bernardini, who went over the $1 million mark in career earnings. Tom Albertrani, who said he was concerned by the sloppy track, trains Bernardini.
Bernardini certainly proved his 5 1/4-length win in the Preakness (gr. I) romp was no fluke. He captured the Jim Dandy by nine lengths, the fourth largest winning distance in the 43-year history of the race.
"The plan was to break and go from there," Albertrani said. "We didn't want to take anything away from our horse. There was still plenty left. Javier said he had a lot left. We had him going into the race the way I wanted. He ran pretty much how I was hoping.
"I was worried all day how he would handle the sloppy track. He handled it with no problem and did it very easily today. I guess there was a lot of doubt in people's minds with the Preakness victory (because of Barbaro's injury). He showed today what a really good horse he is."
The Kentucky homebred is out of the graded stakes-winning mare Cara Rafaela, by Quiet American
Under muggy 85-degree conditions, the 1-2 choice Bernardini out-sprinted Sunriver for the lead from the break, then set strong fractions of :23 4/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 1/5. Sunriver, along the inside, and Minister's Bid, racing off the rail, tracked to the final turn. On the turn, Sunriver was the first to give way. Minister's Bid, ridden by Edgar Prado, stuck as close as he could but trailed by three lengths when they reached the stretch. Bernardini drew off without being asked to leave Minister's Bid in his wake. Hemingway's Key, Julien Leparoux aboard, rallied along the inside through the lane but settled for third.
"I was worried about saving him for the Travers," said Castellano, who never moved on the winner as they thundered down the stretch. "I didn't want to beat him up. At the top of the stretch, I could hear everyone trying to come after me. I decided to wait as long as I could. It was just perfect. He is such a classy horse. He felt just like he did in the Preakness. After the race, he was so calm, and he wasn't blowing."
After losing his debut when fourth against maidens at Gulfstream Park Jan. 7, Bernardini has not lost. He broke his maiden at the South Florida track in March by more than seven lengths, then won the one-mile Withers (gr. III) at Aqueduct April 29 prior to the Preakness. He has earned $1,010,480 in his brief career.
Bernardini paid $3.10, $2.40, and $2.10. Minister's Bid returned $3.10 and $2.60. Hemingway's Key was $3.50 to show.
"I'm disappointed he didn't win, but he got beat by a great horse," said Nick Zito, trainer of Hemingway's Key, the longest shot on the board at 24-1. "We're real happy with his effort, but the winner is a great, great horse."
Dr. Pleasure, Oh So Awesome and Sunriver, the 3-1 second choice, followed.
"He was out of the bridle on the backside, and I had to use him real hard," jockey John Velazquez said of Sunriver. "He's zero for two on slop now, so he really doesn't like it. He's a better horse than that, but the winner is obviously a very nice horse."
Earlier on the program, another sophomore, Corinthian, finished third behind trainer Nick Zito's Hesanoldsalt and Take the Bluff in the third race. It was the 3-year-old's first start since fracturing his left hind ankle in mid-March. Corinthian finished first in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) on March 4 but was disqualified to third, and was a leading Kentucky Derby (gr. I) contender before the injury.