05/17/2006 12:00AM

Easy does it for Bernardini in mud

Exercise rider Michelle Matz, the oldest daughter of trainer Mike Matz, watches Barbaro gallop at the Fair Hill training center earlier this week.

BALTIMORE - The weather finally broke in New York on Wednesday and the track was finally suitable enough for Bernardini to get in his final workout for Saturday's $1 million .

With exercise rider Simon Harris aboard, Bernardini breezed five furlongs in 1:01.28 Wednesday morning over a Belmont Park main track labeled as muddy.

Clockers timed Bernardini's first three furlongs in 35 seconds and caught him galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.60.

"It was a very nice work. He did it quite nicely; we're ready to go," trainer Tom Albertrani said from Belmont. "Today meant nothing

really. It's just a basic work; stretch his legs. We couldn't be happier with the condition of this horse going into the race."

Albertrani had planned to work Bernardini on Tuesday, but scrapped that plan when the track came up extremely sloppy. Albertrani said the delay is of no consequence because he often works his horses three days out from a race.

Bernardini, who comes off an impressive win in the Grade 3 Withers, is scheduled to ship to Pimlico on Friday along with several of his stablemates. Albertrani is also scheduled to run Songster in the Hirsch Jacobs, Sabre d'Argent in the Dixie, and Malibu Moonshine in the William Donald Schaefer Handicap.

Ah Day ends up in Sir Barton

In the end, the risk was not worth the reward for the connections of Ah Day.

The connections of Ah Day elected not to put up the $100,000 necessary to run in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, thus the gelded son of Malibu Moon will run in the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard.

Trainer King Leatherbury said the people from Castleton Lyons Farm, where Malibu Moon stands, contemplated putting up the supplemental fee because a strong performance by Ah Day would have increased the value of Malibu Moon, who has a $30,000 stud fee.

But after handicapping the race, the people from Castleton Lyons opted to take a pass.

"It was a gamble," said Leatherbury, whose 6,134 wins rank him third all time. "You only run to [win] half the purse. From a business standpoint it wasn't a good deal. They contemplated it and this morning they decided they wouldn't do it.

"It was their decision," Leatherbury added. "If they would have put up the money I would have run him."

Ah Day is coming off a strong win in the Federico Tesio Stakes, in which he handled the mud and the 1 1/8 miles for the first time.

A trend continues for another year

The absence of Bluegrass Cat from the Preakness scene means the Pimlico classic once again will not be won by the second-place finisher from the Kentucky Derby, perpetuating a rather remarkable record of Preakness futility among Derby runners-up.

Since 1960, when Bally Ache won the Preakness after finishing second in the Derby, only two Derby runners-up have wheeled back to win the Preakness: Summer Squall in 1990 and Prairie Bayou in 1993. (Forward Pass finished second in the Derby and won the Preakness in 1968 before eventually being awarded the Derby victory on the disqualification of Dancer's Image.)

During those 46 runnings, 36 Derby runners-up have started in the Preakness, and 10 of them were favored, including four in a row from 1996-99. Only one of those favorites, Prairie Bayou, won the Preakness.

Derby runners are Preakness absentees

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, 10 of the 20 horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby ran back in the Preakness. That probably had to do with the fact the Derby was won by 50-1 longshot Giacomo. That number equals the number of Derby starters that ran back in 1999, when the Derby was won by 31-1 longshot Charismatic.

This year, only three runners from the Derby are coming back in the Preakness. That's the lowest number of Derby contenders to run back in the Preakness since 1980 when only Derby winner Genuine Risk and Jaklin Klugman ran back. That Preakness was won by Codex.

Matz's career highlights hardly a short list

As Barbaro develops into a nationally recognized sports figure, the colt's trainer, Michael Matz, has been duly acknowledged as a highly accomplished show-jumping rider.

But a few cursory words about his previous career does precious little justice to how dominant Matz was. To fully appreciate the superstardom that Matz attained in the show-jumping world, log onto the website stadiumjumping.com. A warning: An overview of his jumping career, followed by a listing of his accomplishments, takes up the equivalent of six printed pages.

Multiple special exotic wagers offered

Besides the annual Special-Preakness double, the two-day wager that combines Pimlico's top events, the track also is offering guaranteed pools on pick four wagers both Friday and Saturday.

Those guaranteed pick fours are as follow: Friday, $100,000 on races 4-7, and $250,000 on races 9-12; Saturday, $250,000 on races 4-7, and $1 million on races 9-12. The Preakness is carded as the 12th race Saturday.

The Special-Preakness double, which carries a $2 minimum, drew $598,830 in all-sources handle last year, when Eddington and Afleet Alex combined for a $35.80 payoff.

* Woodford Reserve, the whiskey brand sold by Brown-Forman of Louisville, is the new signature sponsor of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. The company also sponsors the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee