Aqueduct unveils Bernardini Stakes
By Bob Ehalt
Have its name attached to a stakes is a great honor for any racehorse, and on Saturday at Aqueduct, Bernardini gets his chance to take a bow.
The first edition of the $100,000 Bernardini Stakes highlights the card at the Big A and pays tribute to a former star who should be familiar to New York fans.
For those with fuzzy memories, Bernardini was the champion 3-year-old of 2006, the year in which the ill-fated Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby. A son of A.P. Indy owned by Darley Stable and trained by Tom Albertrani, Bernardini rose to prominence by winning the Preakness, the race in which Barbaro broke down.
After that, Bernardini went on an impressive streak, winning the Jim Dandy, Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup to emerge as a front-runner for Horse of the Year honors.
Sent off as a 6-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Bernardini finished second to Invasor after leading in mid-stretch.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic proved to be the final race of Bernardini’s career as he headed to stud with a record of six wins in eight starts with earnings of $3,060,480.
And now, he has a stakes named after him.
Admittedly, the 1 5/16-mile Bernardini Stakes lacks a horse with the resume of its namesake, but it should be a competitive affair.
One of the main threats in the field of seven is Weather Wiz, who overcame a rough break from the gate to finish second in an Aqueduct allowance race on Jan. 13.
In his last four starts, the 5-year-old horse posted a win and two seconds for Centennial Farm and trainer Jimmy Jerkens.
“He’s been training good for this coming out of his last race,” Jerkens said. “Normally, we wouldn’t want to enter him right into a stakes race, but in his last race he kept trying to close on the leader, who came back to win. The way he’s bred, he should appreciate the distance.”
Having to run a sixteenth-of-a-mile more than the Kentucky Derby distance of a mile-and-a-quarter figures to help Leitone, who started his career in Chile and was stakes-placed in Grade 1 stakes there at 11- and 12-furlong distances.
In his last start, Leitone was sixth in the John B. Campbell at Laurel on Feb. 16.
The Bernardini also promises to be a test for the white-hot streak of Rob Atras, who recently started his training career and has posted nine wins with his first 15 starters. He’ll send out Royal Albert Hall, who was second in a $40,000 claimer in his first start for Atras and initial try in New York after shipping in from California.
The rest of the field includes Hit It Once More, Holiday Bonus, Shalako and Forewarned.