Bernardini Faces Elders for First Time in JCGC

(Edited press release)
The 88th running of the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) is a key match up between one of the best 3-year-olds in the United States, Bernardini, and arguably Europe's best 3-year-old, Dylan Thomas.

Owned by Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stables, Bernardini does not have many challengers in this year's JCGC at Belmont Park Oct. 7. Outside of Dylan Thomas, the only other entrants are Wanderin Boy and Andromeda's Hero from Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito's stable. Bernardini has drawn the inside; the field will be loaded into gates 5 through 8.

After winning the Travers (gr. I) at Saratoga in such convincing fashion, there is no doubt that Darley Stable's Bernardini scared off some competition in the JCGC. The 7 1/2-length Travers win was the colt's fifth straight easy victory, a streak that also includes the Withers (gr. II), Preakness (gr. I), and Jim Dandy (gr. II) Stakes.

The JCGC is Bernardini's first race against older horses, albeit two of them. Despite the presence of Andromeda's Hero and Wanderin Boy, it appears that fellow 3-year-old Dylan Thomas is the one that poses the best chance of upsetting Bernardini.

"(Bernardini) has done everything we could have possibly asked him to do this year facing three-year-olds," said trainer Tom Albertrani. "This is another challenge for him facing older horses, but right now I've got a world of confidence that this horse will go out there and run his race. You have to take each race individually and respect each horse that's in there."

Albertrani may have an idea about what to expect from Bernardini's chief rival or he may not.

"(Dylan Thomas) is a very impressive 3-year-old overseas and he's already beaten a nice older filly in Ouija Board over there," he said. "It's a challenge for him too, running on dirt for the first time, so we don't know what to expect there."

Jockey Javier Castellano has been aboard for all of Bernardini's four stakes wins and is poised to ride another Breeders' Cup Classic winner after guiding Ghostzapper to victory in 2004 at Lone Star Park.

Mrs. John Magnier's Dylan Thomas is a two-time group I winner in Europe, taking the Budweiser Irish Derby and the Bailey's Irish Champion Stakes. Though the colt has never run on dirt before, he has trained well over Polytrack overseas, which has given trainer Aidan O'Brien some confidence. With his success already shown on turf, Dylan Thomas's JCGC performance may have an impact on whether he will advance to the grade I John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf or the Classic.

O'Brien knows good works over Polytrack don't necessarily equate to a strong race over a dirt track. The big difference in racing overseas and racing in the U.S. may become apparent at the start of the JCGC.

"He's a tough horse and he's got great tactical speed," O'Brien said. "When he goes to the dirt, he may lose too much ground at the start. Hopefully, we can keep him out of the kickback."

John Velazquez will pilot Dylan Thomas from post two.

Arthur Hancock's Wanderin Boy will pose the biggest challenge to Bernardini early. The speedy 5-year-old led all the way to take the Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont last month. The JCGC will be the longest race of his career. In May, Wanderin Boy was a game second to Invasor in the grade I Pimlico Special, despite surrendering a three-length lead in the stretch.

Zito's other JCGC entry is Andromeda's Hero, owned by Robert LaPenta. The son of Fusaichi Pegasus  was a respectable third behind Invasor and Wild Desert at Belmont this summer in the Suburban Handicap (gr. I). Should Wanderin Boy get tired and Dylan Thomas not handle the dirt, Andromeda's Hero may have a chance to be second as the longest shot in the field.

Assuming all four horses start, this year's JCGC will have the smallest field since Waquoit won in 1988.

The field for the grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup

PP. Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Weight
1. Bernardini, Tom Albertrani, Javier Castellano, 122
2. Dylan Thomas, Aidan O'Brien, John Velazquez, 122
3. Wanderin Boy, Nick Zito, Edgar Prado, 126
4. Andromeda's Hero, Nick Zito, Cornelio Velasquez, 126