Le Bernardin wins the Pegasus Stakes.

Le Bernardin wins the Pegasus Stakes.


Le Bernardin Prevails in Pegasus Stretch Duel

Darley's son of Bernardini likely pointing to Haskell after Monmouth victory June 17.

Rebounding from a dismal outing in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II), Le Bernardin battled for the lead in the stretch and had just enough to hold off Easter Gift in the $103,000 Pegasus Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park June 17 (VIDEO) .

Le Bernardin, reunited with jockey Mike Luzzi, handed the closing Easter Gift his first loss in three starts by a neck, with 11-10 favorite Good Morning Diva 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third.

A Father's Day record crowd reported at 27,532 crowded into the Jersey Shore track for a card highlighted by Pegasus Stakes. Seven 3-year-olds lined up for the 1 1/16-mile event.

Both Good Morning Diva and Le Bernardin were also-rans in the one-turn Peter Pan May 12, with Morning Diva favored off his fourth-place finish at Belmont Park. Darley Stable's Le Bernardin tackled a swift pace scenario  in the Peter Pan and after pressing the leaders in third, he gave way on the turn to finish to last of 10, beaten by nearly 40 lengths.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin considered the colt's stakes debut a throw-out and brought the son of Bernardini , a $325,000 Fasig-Tipton New York yearling buy in August 2010, right back for the Pegasus.

Given a much easier tempo to deal with, the stalking Le Bernardin put his head in front turning into the homestretch on the outside and battled pacesetter Innocent Man and Good Morning Diva down the lane to get control in the final sixteenth. While lugging in under urging from Luzzi, Le Bernardin had just enough to reach the wire ahead of the surging Easter Gift. The latter recovered from a bump after the start to make it close at the end with Sheldon Russell aboard.

"I was having trouble with him early and I put him into the race on the outside so he wasn’t getting dirt in his face," Luzzi said. "I really had to keep after him because he kept trying to lug in. It was surprising because he’d never done that in his races before, but he’s only been out a handful of times. I was just trying to get him to focus and kept him on his task all the way to the wire.”

There was no excuse for Good Morning Diva, the 120-pound high weight ridden by Elvis Trujillo. The son of Lion Heart was able to track Innocent Man and Joe Bravo through fractions of :23.53, :47.73, and 1:12.17 before getting through on the inside on the far turn. Good Morning Diva dug in gamely for the three-way stretch battle before losing steam.

Bred in Kentucky by Mike G. Rutherford, Le Bernardin won for the third time in five starts while boosting his earnings to $146,000. The dark bay or brown colt is out of the Wild Again mare La Rosa, whose dam was 1985 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner Twilight Ridge.

After the race, McLaughlin said he would strongly consider the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) July 29 at Monmouth for Le Bernardin.

Luzzi has ridden Le Bernardin in all of his races except for the Peter Pan, when Eddie Castro had the assignment.

“It was a great win and an excellent ride by Mike Luzzi," McLaughlin said. "The horse seemed to be lugging in for much of the race, but Mike did a great job. I’ve never noticed that he’s been a tough horse to ride in the past, but Mike knows him well and did a great job today."

McLaughlin won the Pegasus for the second time. His first victory in the race came with Allied Force in 1996.

Sent off as the fourth choice, Le Bernardin carried 116 pounds and paid $12, $5.40, $3.40. Robert LaPenta's Easter Gift, making his stakes debut for trainer Nick Zito after an impressive allowance win in the mud at Parx Racing May 22, returned $4.60 and $3. Good Morning Diva, winner of the off-the-turf Calder Derby in April, was $2.40 to show.

Zito said he would consider the Haskell for Easter Gift as well.

"He handled two turns just fine and came running at the end," the Hall of Fame trainer noted. "I thought it was a very good race and something we can build off of.”

Innocent Man faded to fourth, followed distantly by Midnight Serenade and Speeding Again. Unbridled's Way, also owned by Darley, tailed off after chasing the pace and was pulled up in the stretch. He was vanned off.