11/02/2006 12:00AM

Classic analysis

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* BRAD FREE

BERNARDINI dominated small fields in New York while odds-on in his last three. Whoopee. His speed figures are fastest, but this is the first time the silver-spoon colt will run in a big field of older horses. The most likely winner, he is a certain underlay. California-bred LAVA MAN has never shipped well, but he arrived early in Kentucky and reportedly settled in nicely. A blue-collar bulldog whose speed figures are slightly slower than the favorite's, Lava Man is 7 for 7 this year and competed in faster-paced races than Bernardini. Lava Man is genuine. INVASOR got sick, missed training, and skipped the four-horse Jockey Club Gold Cup. A Grade 1 winner who is 7 for 8, he enters off a three-month break. Good horse, tough spot. GIACOMO will roll late, at a price, in the final start of his career. PREMIUM TAP had a nightmare trip last out.

* STEVE KLEIN

BERNARDINI has been dominant this year while winning by convincing margins and earning strong Beyer Speed Figures without being asked for his best. Try to find betting value in the exotics while keying him on top. It remains to be seen if GEORGE WASHINGTON will be as effective on the dirt as he is on turf, but at 10-1 on the morning line I am willing to bet that he will be. INVASOR won his last three races, and earned contending Beyers in the last two. He should be within striking distance, and will have every chance if he is good enough. LAVA MAN won his last seven races in California, but didn't face this type of competition. He will probably need a career-best performance to get the job done. SUN KING needs his best to get a part.

* DAVE LITFIN

BERNARDINI has been nonchalantly brilliant winning six stakes by more than 32 lengths, though I'm still of the opinion his most impressive performance was the Preakness, just his fourth start, in which he turned it off willingly when eased back off the leaders and re-broke with an awesome burst around the far turn. Forget "no one has looked him in the eye" stuff, this has been a special horse from the get-go. DAVID JUNIOR has a layoff of nearly four months to overcome, but recent purchase by Japan Racing Assn. beat The Tin Man off a similar break in Dubai, and last year beat the likes of Arc runner-up Pride; serious horse with $4 million in the bank and enough dirt pedigree to make this a race, dangerous with well-timed late run in match-up with enough pace. INVASOR missed showdown with Bernardini in Jockey Club Gold Cup after spiking fever; edged SUN KING in Whitney with brilliant ride, preferred over the latter at 10 furlongs.

* MIKE WATCHMAKER

This will be by far the best field BERNARDINI has met to date, but there are still serious questions concerning his main opponents. Is INVASOR capable of running a peak race after having to miss his final prep due to illness? Can LAVA MAN for the first time duplicate his stellar Southern California form outside of his home state? These issues have the potential to make Bernardini's task easier, as if he wasn't already formidable enough, what with the way he has won his races in fast time and with such great style. SUN KING ran well when nosed by Invasor in the Whitney, and was compromised by a speed track in the Woodward; can get a piece at a price. Invasor's best race would be a good challenge for the pick, but it's hard to bank on that considering his interrupted race schedule.