Bernardini prevails amid day's despair

After Barbaro pulls up lame, Castellano steers horse to 5 1/4 -length victory

Preakness Stakes

May 21, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

Jockey Javier Castellano was making his move with Bernardini at the 5/16 pole, in the middle of the final turn of the 131st Preakness. He had passed Brother Derek, was moving up on leader Sweetnorthernsaint and had only one worry.

Where was Barbaro?

Castellano looked back under his arm for the Kentucky Derby winner, who was heavily favored to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown, but he couldn't find him.

"As soon as I crossed the finish line, I saw a horse in the middle of the racetrack," said Castellano, who beat Sweetnorthernsaint by 5 1/4 lengths. "I saw the jockey and recognized the colors. Oh, my God. Really, really sad.

"I had two feelings: I'm really happy for my horse to win the Preakness and I'm really sorry for Barbaro. I feel bad for [his] owners. He did so well in the Derby. ... Everyone wants to see a Triple Crown this year -- myself, too -- but I have to do my job."

It was an evening of conflict, as Bernardini, a son of A.P. Indy (Seattle Slew), went to the winner's circle.

The grandstands and infield were filled with a record crowd of 118,402. When Bernardini crossed the finish line, there were cheers for his victory from those who could not see Barbaro hobbling. But along the front stretch, where jockey Edgar Prado had pulled up his horse, fans were in a frenzy, howling, sobbing and screaming, as trainer Michael Matz ran to his horse.

Owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson stood by inconsolable, as a veterinarian took the first look at the right hind ankle that was fractured in two places. The horse was taken by ambulance to the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., where he is to have surgery today.

"Don't you dare kill that horse!" screamed a fan, red-faced, hanging over a railing. "Don't you dare put that horse down!"

Gretchen Jackson's chin trembled, as Castellano and Bernardini passed by, finishing out their run.

"We didn't expect this," she said later. "You can expect being beaten. You didn't think about this."

No one wanted to think about it. In the post-race interview, smiles were less broad and voices softer, as Castellano, trainer Tom Albertrani and John Ferguson, who manages Darley Stables for owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who could not attend the race, answered questions about their victory.

For the Bernardini team, this was supposed to be a moment to savor. Each of them was winning his first Preakness, his first Triple Crown race. And they had done it with a horse who was running in only his fourth race.

An amazing accomplishment and one deserving a celebration.

"It was a beautiful ride, picture perfect," Albertrani said. "He stayed close to the lead, nothing in his way. I thought at halfway, he wasn't going to run his race, but Javier was very patient.

"We had a good trip, but it was unfortunate for Barbaro. It's very upsetting. ... I feel more sorry for what happened to that horse. You don't want to see things like that. We're with these animals nearly 24 hours a day and when they break down, it is very hard on you."

The race began with a false start, rare for a Triple Crown race, when Barbaro accidentally brushed the doors of his starting gate. That action automatically triggered the doors to his No. 6 post and he burst forth to run.

Fortunately, two outriders captured him and returned him to the gate. Though there was much speculation that the false start may have compromised Barbaro, Prado and the examining veterinarian said it didn't.

"When he went to the gate he was feeling super," Prado said. "He actually tried to buck me off a couple of times. He was feeling that good. He just touched the front of the doors of the gate and went right through it.

"During the race, he took a bad step and I can't really tell you what happened. I heard a noise about 100 yards into the race and pulled him right up."

When the race finally got underway, everyone broke cleanly and Castellano patiently rated Bernardini down the front stretch, totally unaware that Barbaro was hurt. He circled the first turn about four-wide as he moved up to fourth and then held steady, allowing Brother Derek, who was rallying from ninth, to pass him down the backstretch.

In the stands, Albertrani feared he was in trouble at that point, but on the track, Castellano had a different idea.

"I thought Brother Derek was making a move too soon," Castellano said. "I didn't want to move too soon. That's why I sat it down on the backside. I took my shot and waited the best I can and the horse responded very well."

As Sweetnorthernsaint had moved into the lead at the quarter pole, trainer Mike Trombetta thought his game 3-year-old just might win.

"We laid second and stalked and then made the lead," Trombetta said. "But then Bernardini bore down on us. Congratulations to them. He was the better horse today."

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