Bernardini at Darley in 2007 (Photos by Horsephotos.com).
In a tough year for racing, Bernardini helped lift the sport back from the devastation it fell into when that year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, suffered a catastrophic injury in the Preakness Stakes.
Bernardini’s brilliance was seen in his second start, a March 5 maiden at Gulfstream Park, where he won by 7 ¾ lengths. Trainer Tom Albertrani stepped the colt up to the stakes level for his next start and Bernardini passed the test with flying colors, winning the Grade 3 Withers Stakes by 3 ¾ lengths.
Next up was his biggest challenge, the Preakness. Bernardini raced in fourth place, settling a few lengths behind the leaders as they raced down the backstretch. As they started into the far turn, jockey Javier Castellano urged Bernardini along rail and the colt eagerly went through the hole before switching to the outside to pass Like Now and Sweetnorthernsaint as they hit the stretch. Sweetnorthernsaint put in a challenge but Bernardini drew away from the gelding to win by 5 ¼ lengths with Sweetnorthernsaint beating third-place finisher Hemingway’s Key by another six lengths.
BERNARDINI IN PREAKNESS WINNER'S CIRCLE
With his Preakness stakes victory, Bernardini became the first United States homebred Classic winner for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Darley Stable. But the colt wasn’t done yet.
After skipping the Belmont Stakes, Bernardini shipped up to Saratoga to compete in the summer’s biggest 3-year-old races. He was even more dominant than the Preakness when winning the Jim Dandy Stakes in preparation for the Travers Stakes, leading wire-to-wire to win by nine lengths without Castellano asking him to do anything.
2006 JIM DANDY STAKES
A month later, Bernardini solidified his position as one of the top horses in the nation when he raced in the Travers Stakes. Just like the Jim Dandy, the colt took the lead soon after the field broke from the gate and led from start to finish. Bluegrass Cat attempted to challenge Bernardini on the turn and again at the head of the stretch but was no match for the Preakness winner.
While Castellano had to urge Bernardini on for a few strides, by the time they hit midstretch the jockey gave Bernardini a pat during a small celebration before crossing the finish line 7 ½ lengths ahead of Bluegrass Cat.
Bernardini’s first race against older horses came against just three other horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. For the first time since the Preakness, Bernardini gave up the lead during the race with Wanderin Boy taking control from the gate. The field ran a slow :25.03 first quarter but Bernardini was relaxed behind Wanderin Boy until the two entered the far turn. Castellano urged Bernardini a bit and the colt had no problem taking the lead. After a small peek back to make sure he knew where the third place horse was, Castellano sat calm and cool as Bernardini effortlessly won the race.
"That was exactly what I was hoping for," Albertrani told the Blood-Horse after the race. "I was hoping to see him run as easy as he did in the Jim Dandy. I've got a fresh horse for the Breeders' Cup now. He does things so easily, I don't know if anyone can give him the kind of race where he has to fight.”
BERNARDINI WINS JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP AGAINST OLDER HORSES
But Bernardini would face a tough challenge in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against top older horses Invasor and Lava Man. Like Bernardini, both were coming into the race on winning streaks and the matchup was expected to decide that year’s Horse of the Year.
Bernardini went off as the overwhelming favorite at odds of 11-to-10 with Invasor going off as the third choice behind Lava Man.
Bernardini raced in fifth until the field went into the far turn before streaking past the leaders and hitting the front at the head of the stretch. It looked like he was poised to win the race but he was unable to match strides with Invasor late in the race. Bernardini was comfortably in second, beating Premium Tap by 2 ½ lengths and securing champion 3-year-old male honors.
Bernardini was retired to Darley after the race with more than $3 million in earnings and six wins in eight starts. He won three Grade 1 races in his career in addition to two other graded stakes events. His only off-the-board finish came in his debut when he finished fourth in a six-furlong race at Gulfstream in January 2006.
From the start, Bernardini was popular with breeders, according to Charlie Boden, Darley America’s head of sales.
“He has bred a full book every year he has been at stud. His first year he had 275 mares submitted in the first week after his retirement was announced,” he said. “He attracted the finest book of mares ever bred to a first-year stallion with 64 Grade 1 winners or producers in his first group.”
Still a classy horse in retirement, Bernardini’s success hasn’t only come in the United States. He’s successfully moved into his second career, siring New Zealand’s 2013 champion 2-year-old filly in addition to seven Grade 1 winners. With the success of his first three crops 3 years old and older, Boden thinks the stallion will have a major influence on the breed.
“Seven Grade 1 winners, 19 graded stakes winners, nine sons standing at stud, with five in Kentucky – [that’s a] pretty good start for being an influence on the breed, don’t you think?” he said.
While Bernardini is still busy in the breeding shed both in Kentucky and Australia, he gets plenty of time to enjoy himself when he’s not meeting the ladies.
“He goes out early every morning and spends the day outside until lunchtime, when he comes in for a bath and stays until the next morning,” Boden said. “He is not ridden or walked but gets his own exercise in his paddock or in the breeding shed.”
BERNARDINI ENJOYING TURNOUT AT DARLEY
Even eight years after running on the track, Bernardini is still extremely popular with fans. Behind Holy Bull and the gravesite of Affirmed, Bernardini is the farm’s most popular horse and is a pro at showing off for all who come and see him.
In addition to being important to fans, Bernardini has also had a major impact on the Darley racing and breeding operation.
“He put our U.S. stallion operation on the map, and the fact that we breed 20 to 40 of Sheikh Mohammed’s best mares to him each year means he will have a tremendous impact on our racing and breeding operation. He means quite a bit to the operation,” he said.
As a talented racehorse and a son of A.P. Indy, Darley is hoping that Bernardini’s legacy is seen for years to come around the world. With two consecutive Grade 1 Travers Stakes winners in America, a champion in New Zealand, and stakes winners on four continents, he is well on his way to making the farm’s dream come true.
To learn more about Bernardini and other Darley stallions, you can visit Darleystallions.com.