Bernardini Works for Classic; Stage Set for Showdown with Lava Man

Darley Stable's Bernardini turned in a bullet five-furlong breeze in 1:02 2/5 at Belmont Park Wednesday, much to the satisfaction of trainer Tom Albertrani. His main rival for the Breeders' Cup Classic – Presented by Dodge (gr. I) will be Lava Man, whose trainer, Doug O'Neill, paid tribute to Bernardini.

"It was an excellent work," Albertrani said of the Darley-owned colt. "He galloped out (six furlongs) in 1:15 and pulled up (seven furlongs) in 1:28 3/5. It looks like he's on top of his game, and hopefully, he'll run the way he has been all year. That would be a great way to cap off the year.

"It was every bit as good as his previous works. He stays consistently the same; it's amazing. With each race he gets better and stronger. I think today was one of the best works I've ever seen him have, I really do. He went his last three eighths in :36 and it looked like he was just galloping."

Albertrani realizes the Classic will be a much different scenario for the son of A.P. Indy, who will be facing tougher horses than he's faced most of the year.

"Lava Man certainly has the credentials," Albertrani said. "We haven't faced a horse like him yet. And Sun King would be the other horse I'm looking at."

O'Neill said he couldn't be happier with the way Lava Man is doing, but acknowledged the foe he'll be tackling Nov. 4.

"He's looks like a freak," O'Neill said of Bernardini. "He's done everything with no effort. On sheer numbers, he towers over everything that's run in the U.S. this year, and he's brought a ton of excitement to the sport. Those kind of horses come around very rarely. I realize our horse is a little on the slow side, but he wants to beat you, and I feel he's as good now as he's ever been. I have a little bit of doubt, but he's doing so well that, hopefully, the doubt will go away by Saturday (Nov. 4) evening."

O'Neill said he's happy with the decision to come to Keeneland early. Lava Man will have his final Breeders' Cup work Friday, and then van to Churchill Downs Saturday.

"I was eager to get the plane ride out of the way," O'Neill said. "We were excited about cushion track at Hollywood Park, and felt the surface at Keeneland would be the equivalent, and we've been thrilled with it. I sent four guys more than I need to, because I wanted him to have as much of the atmosphere of being back home as possible. We even brought his blacksmith out to shoe him.

The third member of the Classic's big three is Shadwell Farm's Invasor, who, like Bernardini, will fly to Louisville next Wednesday (Nov. 1). Although he was forced to miss the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) due to a fever and will go into the Classic off a 13-week layoff, his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, also is confident in his colt's chances.

"He's training unbelievably well and he looks great," McLaughlin said. "Hopefully, fitness isn't an issue. He been eating great and has never looked or trained better."