Clocker singles Bernardini, Henny in Breeders Cup

Oct 24, 2006 9:01 AM

Bernardini: the best since The Bid, or a bully who has been beating up on the bedraggled?

That question grows more prominent every passing day until Nov. 4, when it will be answered in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Regal, robust and ready, Bernardini will be favored in the 1 1/4-mile race that will-- barring unforeseen developments—decide Horse of the Year. Will it be the princely Bernardini, who is championed unequivocally by members of his Eastern court, or the upstart Lava Man, who has emerged from racing’s slums to become the disesteemed Whiz of the West.

Bernardini, who has swept to victory with the ease and grace of an equine Baryshnikov from the Preakness through the Jockey Club Gold Cup, has few, if any, detractors. Lava Man, a history-making refugee from the claiming ranks, has won more money than any horse ever after it was claimed, over $3.4 million, since being taken for $50,000 on Aug. 13, 2004. He also is the only horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic in the same year. He has won seven in a row, but the knock is that he has never won outside of the Golden State, and at last check, Churchill Downs was in Kentucky.

In the opinion of at least one man, successful clocker, gambler and horse trader Gary Young, Bernardini is as good as advertised, perhaps better. He’s a single in the Breeders’ Cup Pick Six, along with Henny Hughes in the Sprint.

"They look like singles to me," Young said. "The other races are fairly open, but I think Bernardini is the best horse we’ve seen since Spectacular Bid. The one thing Bernardini hasn’t had to do from the Preakness on is win a fight and dig down and give 100 percent. If he does that when they ask him, he very well could prove to be the best horse we’ve seen since The Bid."

Young says the California-bred gelding Lava Man "can’t win." Odds are in Young’s favor, because only one Cal-bred—Tiznow in the 2000 Classic and again in 2001—has won a Breeders’ Cup race from 58 starters. That’s less than half a percent, if anyone’s counting.

"When I see Bernardini, I see greatness," Young said. "When I see Lava Man, I see a good, hard-running horse. I respect Invasor’s gameness, but he doesn’t show me near the brilliance of Bernardini. But again, I do respect his gameness when he’s in a fight. As for George Washington, if any horse can come from overseas and run its first race on dirt and beat Bernardini, it would be one of the better accomplishments we’ll see in our life, from both a training and a racing standpoint."

So single Bernardini in the Classic.

Ditto Henny Hughes in the Sprint. "It’s his race to lose," Young said. "Unfortunately, even though this might be one of the more anticipated Breeders’ Cups in years, if Henny Hughes and Bernardini are both in the Pick Six, you better find longshots in the other races if you expect a good payoff."

The Classic will be the final of eight Breeders’ Cup races; the Sprint goes as race four. The races, worth a total of $20 million, will be run in the following order: Distaff, Juvenile Fillies, Mile, Sprint, Filly & Mare Turf, Juvenile, Turf and Classic.

Young’s thoughts on the other races:

Distaff: "Fleet Indian won after getting left (in the Beldame) and proved she didn’t need the lead, but she didn’t wow me, but where do you go? Balletto doesn’t like to pass a horse and Pine Island is a grinder who needs all the help she can get up front. Spun Sugar, I don’t like the way she ran (in the Spinster at Keeneland), Polytrack or no Polytrack."

Juvenile Fillies: "I bought Cash Included for $70,000 at Barretts, and after watching her win the Oak Leaf, I’ve got it between Cash Included and Dreaming of Anna. Point Ashley doesn’t want to run that far, and you can have the horses that ran in New York."

Mile: "There’s a chance Aragorn might be going over the top. Aussie Rules impressed me (winning the Shadwell Mile), but you have the possible Euro-bounce with him. European horses come over here every year and even though we have home field advantage, they beat us. Araafa is dangerous, and the question on Gorella is, where will she run (Mile or Filly & Mare Turf)?"

Filly & Mare Turf: "It will take an awfully good horse from Europe to beat Wait a While. I think maybe Ouija Board has lost a little bit. This is a rare race where I would go with the American filly. The distance is good for her and there’s no chance of her being over the top."

Juvenile: "Nobiz Like Shobiz is a very talented horse, but I’m not surprised Barclay Tagg decided not to run him back in three weeks (after winning the Champagne). Scat Daddy ran good (he outfinished Nobiz Like Shobiz to win by nearly a length in the Champagne). When Great Hunter ran second in the Hollywood Juvenile, you could tell going long would be his forte. I don’t know what to make of him and Circular Quay. They both had trouble in the Lane’s End but both ran well. I’m a little worried that Circular Quay might be a stretch-running sprinter. I’d go with Great Hunter."

Turf: "Eduardo Inda is one of my best friends. I hope his horse (T.H. Approval) runs well. Cacique is a nice horse. To me, Shirocco didn’t run that good in the Arc. English Channel finally made me a believer (in the Joe Hirsch). Whether he’s good enough to beat the Euros, I don’t know."

The homestretch

In addition to Garrett Gomez and Richard Migliore riding full time at Santa Anita’s winter meet that starts Dec. 26, don’t be surprised if Rafael Bejarano joins them to ride first call for Bobby Frankel.

”¡ For the first time, ESPN will televise the Breeders’ Cup in an unprecedented seven-hour live telecast from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

”¡ Churchill Downs had a $121 million facelift completed in 2005. In five previous Breeders’ Cups at the fabled track, average attendance was 73,121, with an all-time record 80,452 on hand in 1998. That mark could be broken this year.

”¡ Lay any price against the once-proud and respected Flyers, a team in a complete free fall with almost the entire NHL season remaining. Philadelphia’s defense is leaden and its goal-tending shaky. The Flyers may not win another game. Heads will surely roll under impetuous and impatient owner Ed Snider, as sure as there’s a gap between Condoleezza Rice’s teeth.

”¡ I must have missed it, but when did the word "guys" (as in, "Back to you guys," the overused term rife on every TV sports event) apply to both sexes? For the record, Webster defines "guy" as "man" and "gal" as informal for "girl."

”¡ And to all my vegetarian detractors, I say this: shut up and eat your spinach!