Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was asked Thursday if he knew the words to the Urugauain national anthem and he smiled but said, "No."
Perhaps he should learn them.
McLaughlin's 4-year-old Invasor, who was bred in Argentina but raced in Uruguay, where he won all five of his starts last year and was that country's Triple Crown champion, went by Bernardini down the stretch to win the $4,580,000 million Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) Nov. 4 by one length at Churchill Downs.
Invasor, who earned $2.7 million for the victory as well as likely Horse of the Year honors, is owned by Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Stable while Bernardini races for his younger brother, Sheikh Mohammed. Invasor has now won nine of 10 starts with earnings of $3,904,070.
"It's an unbelievable feeling to win for the right people," McLaughlin said. "I'm just so happy with everyone associated with the horse -- the groom, the exercise riders, and the whole organization."
The 11-10 choice Bernardini, who had reeled off six consecutive victories, including the Travers (gr. I) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) in his two most recent starts, held on for second by 2 1/2 lengths. Premium Tap finished third, one length ahead of 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo.
"He was struggling down the backside," Bernardini's trainer, Tom Albertrani said. "He (jockey Javier Castellano) was asking him more than normal. We got beat by a better horse today.
"We got banged around a little early on but he still came with his run. We just didn't have the luck today. We had a great year with him but we were second best today."
Albertrani said he did not know if Bernardini, as was widely expected coming into the race, would be retired.
Brother Derek made the lead out of the gate and opened up by two when the field stretched out down the backside. Lawyer Ron was tracking in third and Lava Man and Flower Alley were tracking the leaders.
The field went a quarter in :23.13 and a half in :46.60, by which time Premium Tap had moved up to fourth. As they ran six furlongs in 1:11.11, Brother Derek was still first and Lawyer Ron second, with Premium Tap third.
Javier Castellano had Bernardini on the outside and moving at this point and went by as the field went through the turn for home. But Fernando Jara also had Invasor moving. When Bernardini hit the front, he still had the long Churchill Downs stretch to navigate.
It proved to be too much ground as Invasor surged by on the outside won the 1 ¼-mile race, his fourth straight grade I win. He ran the distance in 2:02.18.
"He ran a big race," said Castellano of Bernardini. "I'm not disappointed at all – you can't win all the races. I had to ask him for the first time today. He passed the other horses easily. He gave me everything. He's a fighter and didn't want to get beat."
Invasor has been beaten only once, that a fourth in Dubai between his races in Uruguay and the United States.
McLaughlin had planned to run Invasor in the Jockey Club Gold Cup but he spiked a fever and missed the race. As such, he had a 90-day layoff entering the Classic.
Asked about using a young rider such as Jara, McLaughlin said. "By the time they entered the first turn, he had moved to the two path and he broke from the 11; that shows how good he is."
Invasor, by Candy Stripes out of the Interprete mare Quendon, paid $15.40, $5.80, and $4.60. Bernardini returned $3.40 and $3 and Premium Tap, ridden by Edgar Prado, was worth $8.80 to show.
"We got beat by two very nice horses," Prado said. "I knew he could run, and he proved that today."
Trainer John Shirreffs said Giacomo would be retired to stud.
"I'm really pleased with his race and the way he ran," he said. "The Mosses and I are tickled. His whole career has been like a magic carpet ride."
The attendance was 75,132 on a beautiful day, the temperature in the low 50s and the sun shining brightly. There were only a few minutes of light left by the time they ran the Classic at 5:30.
The crowd was the third largest in Breeders' Cup history, all three of those attendance figures coming at Churchill Downs. The record in the 23-year history of the event was the 71,237 that attended in 1988.
The complete order of finish was: Invasor, Bernardini, Premium Tap, Giacomo, Brother Derek, George Washington, Lava Man, Perfect Drift, Lawyer Ron, Sun King, Flower Alley, Suave, and David Junior.
Lava Man, who brought a seven-race winning streak into the race, was in tight and bumped, eventually tracking the leaders while four wide and began to fade on the far turn to finish seventh.
"I'm a little disappointed with the result, but I'm proud of how he ran and how he tried," said trainer Doug O'Neill, who won two races on the day. "I'm just hoping he will be able to come back fine and go on from here."
Invasor was spotted in Uruguay by a representative of Sheikh Hamdan's operation that was asked to look for endurance horses. He was purchased and sent to Dubai because he was eligible for the UAE Derby (UAE-II).
From there, he arrived at McLaughlin's barn in New York and reeled off wins in the Pimlico Special Handicap (gr. I) in May, Suburban Handicap (gr. I) in July, and Whitney Handicap (gr. I) in August.
He worked in New York Oct. 29 and shipped to Churchill Downs on Nov. 1.