07/28/2006 11:00PM

Bernardini's encore leaves no doubt

Making his first start since his memorable victory in the Preakness Stakes in May, Bernardini romps to a nine-length score in Saturday's Jim Dandy.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - For those who missed Bernardini's brilliant effort in the Preakness, he provided an encore performance in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 before a crowd of 24,944 at sloppy Saratoga.

Taking command from the outset under Javier Castellano, Bernardini splashed his way to a nine-length victory over Minister's Bid without, as track announcer Tom Durkin exclaimed "breaking a sweat!"

The victory more than validated Bernardini's Preakness score, which was greatly overshadowed by the career-ending injury suffered by Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

It also sets him up as the overwhelming favorite for the $1 million Travers to be run here on Aug. 26.

"I guess there was a lot of doubt in people's minds with the Preakness victory," said Tom Albertrani, trainer of Bernardini. "He showed today what a really good horse he really is."

Minister's Bid, who chased Bernardini all the way, was able to hold second by a head over Hemingway's Key. Dr. Pleasure, Oh So Awesome, and Sunriver completed the order of finish.

The fact that Bernardini led gate to wire may have been the only surprise of the race. In the Preakness, he sat fourth before launching his monster move around the turn en route to a 5 1/4-length victory.

But the Jim Dandy field had only one other speed horse in it, Minister's Bid. Since that horse was drawn outside and Bernardini had post 3, Albertrani felt that if Bernardini could make the lead easily he should take it.

"We knew Minister's Bid was the only horse we had to outrun to the first turn and being he was on the outside of us maybe he wouldn't have an advantage because our horse normally breaks pretty well," Albertrani said. "The plan was to just break and go from there; don't take back, don't take anything away from our horse. If someone wants to go,0 you let them go. Just ride your own race."

Bernardini ran fractions of 23.89 seconds, 47.86, 1:11.33, 1:37.12 and covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.50 in the slop. He returned $3.10.

"He traveled very well, he handled the track very well," Castellano said. "Had plenty of horse left in the end. I didn't want to beat him up."

"I've been saying how good this horse is all along," Albertrani said. "I think we're going to see better things from this horse later on."