08/26/2006 12:00AM

Bernardini seizes control

Bernardini has his fifth consecutive victory in Saturday's Travers at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Bernardini took control of Saturday's $1 million entering the first turn and moments later seized control of the 3-year-old division with a dominating performance in the midsummer derby before a crowd of 40,785.

Outsprinting High Cotton going into the first turn, Bernardini set all the early fractions and simply ran away from Bluegrass Cat and the rest of the field to score a most emphatic 7 1/2-length victory - the largest margin of victory in the Travers since General Assembly in 1979.

Bluegrass Cat, who stalked Bernardini from the outset and tried to make several runs at him, had to settle for second, 6 1/4 lengths ahead of Dr. Pleasure. Hesanoldsalt, High Cotton, and Minister's Bid completed the order of finish.

It was the fifth consecutive victory for Bernardini, who added the Travers to previous stakes wins in the Jim Dandy, Preakness, and Withers. Bernardini became the seventh horse to win both the Jim Dandy and Travers.

More importantly, the victory may have propelled Bernardini past injured Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro for championship honors in the 3-year-old division. Bernardini, owned by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley Stable, will get a chance to take on older horses in the fall in such races as the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic.

"I think right now whatever he did today, I don't think any horse can beat this horse right now," said winning rider Javier Castellano, who began celebrating his victory at the sixteenth pole.

Winning trainer Tom Albertrani said: "This horse gets better every race. I think he'll be a very tough horse later in the season against the older horses."

As he did in the Jim Dandy, Bernardini took control of the race entering the first turn. With nobody seemingly wanting the lead, Castellano was not going to allow his rivals to put him in a jackpot.

"Today he was pretty sharp," Castellano said. "He wanted to go."

Bernardini cleared High Cotton going into the first turn, running an opening quarter-mile in 23.53 seconds. John Velazquez had Bluegrass Cat right off Bernardini's flank and continued to stalk him through splits of 48.17, 1:12.72, and 1:36.83. Velazquez took another run at Bernardini at the quarter pole, but Bernardini was way too much horse in the stretch. Bernardini covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.60 and returned $2.70 to win, making him the shortest-priced Travers winner since Arts and Letters in 1969.

The victory capped a fabulous day for the Maktoum family. Earlier on the card, Ashkal Way, owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing, won the Bernard Baruch, and Henny Hughes, owned by Sheikh Mohammed's son, Sheikh Rajid, won the Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes.

* The all-stakes pick-four returned $29.50 for a $1 wager. The New York Racing Association guaranteed a pool of $1 million, and the total pool was $1,466,611.

* The grand slam wager, which had a record pool of $154,078, returned $12.90 for a $1 wager. NYRA guaranteed a pool of $100,000.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch