05/05/2006 12:00AM

Bernardini's lineage can help take him far

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Late-maturing 3-year-old Bernardini wins the Withers at Aqueduct.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Not every horse is ready for the most exciting two minutes in sports, and sometimes, among those who either are shut out of the Kentucky Derby on earnings, or have a small physical problem, or are coming into form just a bit late, there is a grand jewel of a racehorse.

While a champion of this description doesn't come around very often, Kelso was one, Buckpasser another, and more recently Wajima, Tiznow, and A.P. Indy all missed the Kentucky Derby but showed the talent to lead their generations before the end of the year. Of this group, A.P. Indy is especially important because, after being scratched from the Derby because of a problem with a foot, he came back to win the Belmont Stakes five weeks later as part of a campaign that led him to honors as champion 3-year-old colt and Horse of the Year.

In addition to being the most consistently classic-oriented sire in the country, and having a starter in the Kentucky Derby (A. P. Warrior), A.P. Indy also is the sire of Bernardini, one of the colts who was not quite ready for the classic in Kentucky.

Winner of the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on April 29 and 2 of his 3 starts, Bernardini is a typical example of the type of good colt who is maturing just a bit late to gain the seasoning necessary for the big show in Louisville, Ky. Instead, this homebred from Darley Stable is likely to make his next start in either the Preakness Stakes in two weeks or in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont.

A handsome and well-regarded colt from the beginning, A. P. Warrior is out of the high-class racemare Cara Rafaela, a Grade 1 winner at 2 who also ran second or third in such elite events as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Ashland, Santa Anita Oaks, Kentucky Oaks, and Mother Goose.

In addition to her excellent racing ability, Cara Rafaela is a big, good-looking mare. A gray daughter of the important sire Quiet American, the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, Cara Rafaela brought $70,000 as a yearling in 1994, the second-highest price for a Quiet American yearling that year.

Bred by Mike Rutherford and raced by Stud TNT, Cara Rafaela was purchased privately by Darley when she was carrying Bernardini.

"Cara Rafaela is a big, rangy mare typical of her sire, Quiet American, and is pretty correct, with a little more quality than some," said Michael Banahan, the farm manager for Darley at Jonabell. Her first foal for Darley was Bernardini, whom Banahan described as being "one of our best foals, one of our best yearlings. He was a really nice young horse."

Bernardini is the fifth foal of his dam. Cara Rafaela's first foal was the good racer Ile de France (by Storm Cat), who ran third in the Santa Anita Oaks.

The mare has a 2-year-old filly by Storm Cat named White Tiger, who is training in England, and produced another filly by Storm Cat on Feb. 11.

Banahan said that the "foal is much like the mare, rangy but a bit lighter-framed. The 2-year-old is a much different type. She is bigger and stronger and will probably be somewhat more backward. The foal this year will be more like Bernardini than the 2-year-old."

And when the advisers at Darley realized Bernardini's talent last year, even the attraction of another mating with Storm Cat couldn't sway their decision.

"The only thing was to go back to A.P. Indy," Banahan said.

Cara Rafaela is in foal to A.P. Indy on an April 12 cover and was confirmed in foal with an ultrasound scan on April 29, the same day Bernardini became a graded stakes winner.

The resulting foal will be a full sibling to Bernardini, who became the 88th stakes winner for his illustrious sire.

In addition to his outstanding racing career, with 8 victories from 11 starts, the 17-year-old A.P. Indy has become the best son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew at stud. He led all sires in North America by gross earnings in 2003, the year his son Mineshaft became Horse of the Year. Furthermore, A.P. Indy has become a promising sire of stallions, with his most successful son to date being Claiborne Farm's Pulpit, whose son Corinthian finished first in the Florida Derby this year but was disqualified for interference.

Other young sons of A.P. Indy include Malibu Moon (sire of champion juvenile Declan's Moon), Stephen Got Even (sire of champion juvenile Stevie Wonderboy), and such promising young stallions as Mineshaft, Aptitude (Steppenwolfer), and Golden Missile.