Darley Stable's Bernardini quickly drew away from favored Luxembourg at the head of the stretch to win the $142,500 Withers (gr. III) for 3-year-olds at a mile Saturday on Aqueduct's fast main track.The 3 ¾-length victory over three rivals came in 1:35, but was all the more impressive in that jockey Javier Castellano lost his whip in mid-stretch and hand-rode the winner to the wire.It was only the third race of Bernardini's career, but the A.P. Indy colt has now won two races in a row, both at a mile. This was his first start at Aqueduct after two tries at Gulfstream Park and was worth $90,000 to his connections. The Thomas Albertrani-trained bay was to have raced against Luxembourg on the Wood Memorial (gr. I) undercard April 8, but a bruised foot kept him out. Luxembourg went on to a four-length win in the slop.Castellano kept his mount a half-length behind Luxembourg, who set fractions of :23, :46 1/5 and 1:10 3/5. On the turn, however, he let Bernardini loose, and the colt powered him to the lead just past the quarter-pole.Castellano lost his whip when he went to throw a cross while driving for the wire. But he had plenty of horse and few worries. "Javier rode him very confidently," said Albertrani, who said the Preakness (gr. I) next month is a possibility. "We finished up well, and it looked like he had something left at the end," he said. "His foot bruise was really a minor deal. We backed off him for a couple of days, and then it was right back to his usual routine. We'll consider the Preakness. We'll talk it over with John Ferguson and Sheikh Mohammed."The Preakness, the second leg of racing's Triple Crown at Pimlico, will be run May 20.
"He felt great today," Castellano said. "I could have gone to the lead, but I knew that Edgar (Prado on Luxembourg) would want to use his position by breaking from the rail. I rode him with a lot of confidence. When I pushed the button, he took off. He switched leads perfect, and he's got a lot of class."Doc Cheney, who benefited from an unhurried, ground-saving ride from Channing Hill, got up for the place, leaving Luxembourg in third, 1 1/2 lengths farther behind. Rob'em Blind finished last. The second choice, Bernardini returned $5.70 and $4 with no show wagering. Doc Cheney paid $4.80.(Chart, Equibase)