With two late-year grade I races at Los Alamitos Race Course that are perceived to be for the taking, it's somewhat surprising only one out-of-town challenger will take a swing at a top-level score Dec. 10.
Outside of the Breeders' Cup, trainer Tom Albertrani hasn't shipped in to Southern California for big races often, but he has had success doing so.
Back in 2009, he sent Farnsworth Stables' Gozzip Girl west for the American Oaks (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park, and the Dynaformer filly humbled a field of 14 to win by 3 1/4 lengths.
His next invader goes by the name of Berned, a Bernardini filly owned by Three C Stables, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Robert Masiello who will challenge Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) runners American Gal and Union Strike in the $300,000 Starlet Stakes (gr. I) at Los Alamitos.
"The grade I (status) is the main reason we're coming out," Albertrani said of Berned, who ran second despite a troubled trip in the Nov. 5 Tempted Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack, her stakes debut. "We feel we have a pretty nice filly. She has a beautiful pedigree. We couldn't get there for the Breeders' Cup, but feel she's in the same class—she can compete with the same group of fillies."
In the one-turn-mile Tempted, Berned trailed the seven-filly field entering the turn, ran into traffic trouble entering the stretch, and was still able to finish strongly for second, three-quarters of a length behind Miss Sky Warrior. Miss Sky Warrior then flattered Berned with a next-out score in the Nov. 26 Demoiselle (gr. II) back at Aqueduct.
"It's always good to see the winner that narrowly beat you come back and run well," Albertrani said of his filly, who ran second in her debut at Saratoga Race Course then won second time out at Belmont Park in September. "She had a troubled trip (in the Tempted) and lacked some room. Looking at all of her races—from her first to third start—she looks like a very consistent filly."
Albertrani is also encouraged by her bloodlines. He had her half brother, maiden winner Wheels Up Now, who flashed talent but had to be retired because of an injury.
"We did have her half brother and he looked like a pretty nice horse, but got injured," Albertrani said. "And Bernardini is one of my favorites."
There are also the heightened expectations that go with any large purchase. West Point went to $550,000 to secure the filly—bred by AR Enterprises out of grade III winner First Passage—as a yearling at the 2015 Keeneland September sale, and like any juvenile filly late in the year, the mind can wander to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
"After the Starlet, we'll ship her to Florida," Albertrani said. "Depending on how she runs and how she ships back, we could be looking at an Oaks trial, but it doesn't have to be that way."