Barbaro still has inside track on 3-year-old honors

June 12, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

ELMONT, N.Y. -- The backstretch was alive with activity yesterday morning, as trainers went about their business the morning after Jazil won the Belmont Stakes.

Everyone went out of his way to congratulate trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on the victory in which his deep closer upset the field under the guiding hands of Fernando Jara, at 18 the youngest jockey to win a Triple Crown race since Jack Kaenel won the Preakness in 1982 at 16.

But the Belmont was no sooner over Saturday evening than McLaughlin was talking about Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who suffered a career-ending broken right rear leg in the Preakness.

Despite Jazil's impressive from-last-to-first victory and Bernardini's romp in the Preakness, McLaughlin said Barbaro has the inside track on the award for 3-year-old of the year.

Yesterday morning, he and Tom Albertrani, who trains Bernardini, were still talking about the horse who wasn't here.

"I'm sure Barbaro will end up being champion 3-year-old - unless we can pull off the Travers and the Breeders' Cup Classic, and still it would be tough for [Barbaro] not to get it for what he has done," McLaughlin said. "Barbaro is the front-runner going into the fall. Barbaro didn't do anything wrong. He's undefeated. And he's got the sentiment on his side, too.

"Wayne [Lukas] used to say the Eclipse Award should be for what a horse does from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, but it's not always like that."

Albertrani said he realizes any 3-year-old but Barbaro will be a long shot for the top award, but added he sees a chance for Bernardini to pull off another upset.

"Jazil put on a great performance [in the Belmont]," he said. "It was a super race in which he showed his stamina and finished well. But when he cuts back in distance, maybe he won't be so effective.

"And if Bernardini was to go on and win the Jim Dandy, the Travers and the Breeders' Cup, there might be other considerations [for top 3-year-old]."

But, Albertrani added: "You can't deny Barbaro is undefeated in the races he completed and won the Derby. It just depends on how everything falls into place."

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who was the first to congratulate McLaughlin after his Saturday victory, said yesterday he's "not crushed" by being 0-for-20 in Triple Crown races after his two Belmont entries, Bluegrass Cat and Sunriver, finished second and third, respectively.

He also said he sees McLaughlin's point about Barbaro.

"People will move on from what happened to Barbaro," Pletcher said. "Yesterday, they had a great crowd here without a Triple Crown being on the line. ... Without any romantic stories, people were still interested.

"But, obviously, the Derby winner is going to carry the most interest no matter what. The fact Barbaro got injured ended any idea of a Triple Crown, but whatever horse might beat him for top 3-year-old will have to do something remarkable from here on out because Barbaro was unbeaten and impressive in the Derby."

At the Fair Hill Training Center, Barbaro trainer Michael Matz was in full agreement.

"I'm biased, you know," he said. "But in every head-to-head meeting with all those horses, Barbaro won. Unless Bernardini or Jazil does something special in the Travers or the Breeders' Cup - and I'd think one of them would have to win both of them to have any chance - I'd think Barbaro would have to be the top 3-year-old."

Barbaro won two Grade I and two Grade II stakes and was undefeated in four this starts prior to the Preakness this year. He won the Kentucky Derby by 6 1/2 lengths, the largest margin in 60 years, reaching all the way back to Assault's eight-length win in 1946.

Before the Preakness, Barbaro was 6-for-6 lifetime.

"What happened to him is a very unfortunate thing," Matz said. "There's no telling how great he could have been - even though he had that high knee action and was better on grass."

Matz, who visits Barbaro daily at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., said the horse is doing fine and that his cast probably will be changed sometime in the next couple of weeks.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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