When predictions were being made for this year’s freshman sire race, practically everyone had Darley’s young stallion Bernardini tabbed as a top sire prospect. With an excellent race record, a fine pedigree, superb conformation, and a wealthy owner capable of supporting him with some of the world’s best broodmares, Bernardini looked as close to a sure thing as exists in the ranks of prospective stallions. The only real question was how long it would take his progeny to come out running, as Bernardini himself did not race as a juvenile.
The answer wasn’t long in coming. While Bernardini’s progeny have not been particularly precocious, they have shown to great advantage as the distances began stretching out. The stallion’s first stakes winner, Theyskens' Theory, got the parade rolling August 28 by capturing the seven-furlong Chichester Observer Prestige Stakes (Eng-III). Stay Thirsty had to settle for second behind Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner Boys At Tosconova nine days later, but on October 9, Bernardini was represented by not one but two grade/group I winners: Biondetti in the Gran Criterium (Ity-I), and A Z Warrior in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I). The stallion’s latest black type winner is To Honor and Serve , who served notice that Uncle Mo may not be the only one to watch on the 2011 Triple Crown trail by scoring a facile victory in the Nashua Stakes (gr. II) on the same day as the Breeders’ Cup. At present, Bernardini ranks third on the Blood-Horse’s freshman sire list.
Bernardini’s early success, as well as that of current freshman sire leader Congrats , is helping to solidify A.P. Indy’s reputation as a sire of sires, which in truth has primarily rested on Pulpit until now. Although A.P. Indy sons Stephen Got Even , Golden Missile , Aptitude, and Mineshaft have all sired grade I winners, none have been as consistent as Pulpit, who so far shows the most promise of continuing the line into the future thanks to his sons Tapit , Sky Mesa , and Stroll . In addition, Pulpit is the sire of grade I winners Corinthian , Purge, and Pyro, who have yet to be represented on the track. Of course, none of Mineshaft’s better sons have as yet begun their stud careers, and A.P. Indy’s grade I-wining grandsons Great Hunter (Aptitude), Stevie Wonderboy (Stephen Got Even), and I Want Revenge (Stephen Got Even) have yet to be represented by runners.
Although Bernardini’s female line is one of considerable quality, it is not one that has been known for sire production over the last several generations. He is out of Cara Rafaela, who might well have been named champion juvenile filly in 1995 had she managed to stave off the late-running My Flag in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). As it was, the daughter of Quiet American collected victories in the Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I) and Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II) and a second in the Matron Stakes (gr. I), and also placed in five grade I stakes as a 3-year-old. Her other foals include Lovely Regina (by Deputy Minister), dam of 2009 Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) winner Thiskyhasnolimit. Herself a half sister to two-time grade III winner Abaginone (by Devil’s Bag), Cara Rafaela is out of Oil Fable, a winning daughter of the great Spectacular Bid.
Oil Fable’s dam Northern Fable (by Northern Dancer) was a disappointing producer but a good runner who won the 1982 Palomar Handicap (gr. IIIT). Her dam, Fairway Fable (by Never Bend) was one of four stakes winners produced by Fairway Fun (by Prince John), herself a full or half sister to 1972 Prix Morny winner Filiberto; multiple grade I winner White Star Line; Trick Chick, dam of four stakes winners including 1984 Prix de Diane Hermes (Fr-I) winner Northern Trick and 1977 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner On the Sly; and Day Line, dam of 1973 Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) winner Magazine. The female line traces back to Magnolia (by Glencoe), dam of the great Kentucky (by Lexington) and ancestress of 1926 Belmont Stakes winner and Horse of the Year Crusader, Kentucky Derby winners Lawrin (1938), Middleground (1950; also won the Belmont Stakes), Venetian Way (1960), and Sunny’s Halo (1983); and the Preakness Stakes winners Faultless (1947) and Timber Country (1995).
All of Bernardini’s stakes winners to date are inbred to Northern Dancer, which admittedly is getting rather hard to avoid nowadays. Two of the four, A Z Warrrior and To Honor and Serve, are also inbred to Mr. Prospector, and Theysken’s Theory is inbred 3x3 to Weekend Surprise, a superior female by the standards of Rasmussen Factor fans if ever there was one. Theysken’s Theory is, in fact, bred on the same pattern as 2005 champion juvenile male Stevie Wonderboy, who is also by a son of A.P. Indy out of Heat Lightning, a daughter of his half brother Summer Squall. Buckpasser may also be a possible target for inbreeding as he appears 5x5 in the pedigree of To Honor and Serve.
So far, from 109 named foals in his first crop of racing age Bernardini has sired just 10 winners, confirming the early impression that he was not likely to be a sire of precocious runners. But when four of those winners are graded/group stakes winners–two of them at the highest level–and another is grade I-placed, much can be forgiven regarding consistency, especially given the versatility he has already shown with major winners on both European turf and American dirt. In any event, Bernardini’s numbers are likely to improve considerably next year as his first foals continue to mature, mirroring the racing career and stallion profile of his own sire, A.P. Indy. Whether he will be as good a sire as A.P. Indy remains to be seen, of course, but Bernardini is definitely a case of so far, so good.