September 28, 2021

Champion, influential sire Bernardini euthanized

Bernardini romped in six straight races including the 2006 Travers (NYRA/Coglianese Photography)

Bernardini, a classic-winning champion on the racetrack who carved out an influential career at stud, has been euthanized at the age of 18. Darley announced Friday that the homebred developed laminitis complications.

A royally bred son of Hall of Famer A.P. Indy and Grade 1 queen Cara Rafaela, Bernardini burst onto the scene in his three-year-old campaign in 2006. The Tom Albertrani trainee progressed rapidly from a fourth in his career debut to a 7 3/4-length maiden conquest at Gulfstream Park. Bernardini remained at a one-turn mile for his first stakes attempt in the Withers (G3), then in late April at Aqueduct, where he pressed the pace before drawing off by 3 3/4 lengths.

That set the stage for what promised to be an epic clash with Kentucky Derby (G1) star Barbaro in the Preakness S. (G1). Tragically, the battle never materialized once Barbaro broke down with a catastrophic injury early on at Pimlico. It’s a fateful irony that 15 years later, the same dread disease that ultimately claimed Barbaro – laminitis – would also take Bernardini.

By sweeping to a 5 1/4-length victory in the middle jewel, Bernardini became Sheikh Mohammed’s first U.S. classic winner. The baton was passed just last month to Essential Quality, whose Belmont S. (G1) triumph marked a breakthrough for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation.

Bernardini skipped the Belmont to freshen up for the second of the season, when he unambiguously proved himself the best three-year-old colt in training. After graceful frontrunning romps in both the Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers (G1), the bay dusted older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).

Bernardini brought a six-race winning streak into the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs, where he went off as the 11-10 favorite. His bold bid on the far turn raised hopes of making it seven, until Invasor kicked on late to prevail and secure Horse of the Year honors.

Retired with $3,060,480 in earnings from an 8-6-1-0 record, Bernardini made an immediate impact as a sire at Darley’s Jonabell Farm in Kentucky. His first crop included multiple Grade 1-winning millionaires Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve. Stay Thirsty also ranked as the first of Bernardini’s back-to-back Travers heroes, followed by Alpha who dead-heated in 2012. As a sire himself, Stay Thirsty is responsible for such major winners as Mind Control and Coal Front.

Another son of Bernardini, unbeaten Grade 3 scorer Algorithms, has likewise come up with notable runners like Math Wizard and Recruiting Ready. Among the Bernardini colts still enhancing their racing resumes are Art Collector and Bourbonic. Further afield, Bernardini has sired five-time Australian Group 1 hero Boban, Dubai Carnival mainstays Capezzano and Le Bernardin, and New Zealand champion two-year-old Ruud Awakening.

Bernardini’s greatest legacy so far has been his daughters, especially as producers. According to Darley, he reached the milestone of 50 stakes winners faster than any other broodmare sire.

Two current graded winners, Clairiere and Spice Is Nice, are out of prominent racemares by Bernardini – multiple Grade 1 heroine and $2 million-earner Cavorting and Dame Dorothy, respectively. Rachel’s Valentina, the Grade 1-winning daughter of Bernardini and Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra, could be the next to join that club.

Note that both Clairiere and Spice Is Nice are by Curlin. Others bred on that emerging cross of Curlin over Bernardini mares are Point of Honor, Paris Lights, and Cezanne.

Godolphin’s star older horse Maxfield is out of a Bernardini mare, as are Grade 1 performers Colonel Liam, Serengeti Empress, Catholic Boy, Mo Town, Owendale, Dunbar Road, Wicked Whisper, Hunter O’Riley, and Canadian champion Gretzky the Great. Bernardini also factors as the broodmare sire of 2021 graded scorers Classier, Moonlight d’Oro, Modernist, Twenty Carat, and Soothsay.

Darley’s announcement included tributes to the late sire.

“Bernardini was one of a kind,” said Michael Banahan, Director of Farm Operations for Godolphin USA. “From the day he was born, he exuded class. He was that crop’s best foal, best yearling and best racehorse. His brilliance was only surpassed by his wonderful character. He will be sorely missed by all on the farm but especially by his handler for the past 15 years, Philip Hampton. It was an honor to be a custodian of this classic-winning stallion whose legacy will live long as a broodmare sire.”

“Bernardini was such a majestic animal,” Albertrani said. “He was very talented, one of the best horses I’ve ever been around. I just feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to train him. He was a star.”

“Bernardini was Sheikh Mohammed’s first winner of a Triple Crown race – and a homebred one, too – and then a leading sire,” noted Jimmy Bell, President of Godolphin USA. “We have been blessed to have him. A beautiful horse, and a lovely character, we are lucky to have so many of his daughters on the farm to continue his legacy.’

2 Comments on Champion, influential sire Bernardini euthanized

  1. I was fortunate enough to be at CD for that Breeder’s Cup. Even though he didn’t win its great to have seen him race in person. He was truly a gifted and talented champion.

  2. Upon the occasion of (Bernardini’s) Preakness, I found myself in a makeshift bar with a floor of straw, beneath the small grandstand at Waitsburg, Washington, where I stood beside a friend watching the big race.

    Largely because Barbaro was such a short price, and partly because I was in one of the last bastions of non-commingled pools, I decided to key Bernardini in small exacta boxes with 3 or 4 others. I may have been the only person in attendance there to hit the Preakness exacta, which paid more in Waitsburg than it did at Pimlico. I know they paid me off with a lot of $5 bills.

    Of course I’ve mentioned this story many times in the 15 years since – just never in relation to Bernardini.

    I am glad to have taken a liking to Bernardini so long ago.

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