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Bernardini ready to kick up heels

NEW YORK -- The way Bernardini has been humbling the competition, there's not much more for trainer Tom Albertrani to say about his 3-year-old star thoroughbred.

``He's done everything he's been asked," Albertrani said yesterday after Bernardini was made the 1-2 favorite for tomorrow's Jockey Club Gold Cup, a final prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs Nov. 4.

A runaway winner in the Jim Dandy and the Travers in his last two starts, Bernardini will face three rivals in tomorrow's 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup -- the smallest field since four ran in 1988. It will be the colt's first race against older horses.

Irish Derby and Irish Champion Stakes winner Dylan Thomas, a 3-year-old making his first start in America and on dirt, is among the challengers, along with 4-year-old Andromeda's Hero and 5-year-old Wanderin Boy, both trained by Nick Zito.

The Gold Cup lost some of its luster last week when top older horse Invasor -- winner in eight of nine career starts -- spiked a fever and was declared out.

``Your first thoughts are that's one less horse to worry about," Albertrani said. ``But if Bernardini were to beat him, it would have boosted Bernardini's status."

The two could meet up in the $5 million Classic, with Horse of the Year honors on the line. Bernardini took control of the 3-year-old division by winning the Preakness and following up with a 9-length romp in the Jim Dandy and a 7 1/2-length win in the Travers, both at Saratoga.

With Barbaro recovering from catastrophic injuries from the Preakness, Bernardini has displayed the qualities of a champion. After losing his first career start, the son of A.P. Indy has won five in a row by a combined 33 1/4 lengths. Even from afar, trainers have marveled at Bernardini's smooth stride and easy victories.

``Bernardini looks like something we haven't seen in a while," said Dennis O'Neill, assistant trainer of Lava Man, the West Coast's top older horse who is 6 for 6 this year.

Lava Man puts his winning streak on the line in the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita, where the 5-year-old gelding goes against 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and Santa Anita Derby winner Brother Derek.

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