12/18/2012 1:44PM

Gulfstream Park: Bernie the Jet cuts back in Thursday turf sprint

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Tom Keyser
Bernie the Jet will likely attempt to sit off of the pace in a five-furlong optional claimer on the turf Thursday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Gary Contessa believes Bernie the Jet is destined to be a better sprinter than distance horse as his career progresses. He’ll get the opportunity to test that theory when he turns Bernie the Jet back to five furlongs on the turf to face the potent Wesley Ward entry of stakes winner Rip Roaring Ritchie and Skylander in Thursday’s $54,500 optional claiming feature for 2-year-olds at Gulfstream Park.

Bernie the Jet has made the majority of his starts around two turns on turf, although he registered his only victory going seven furlongs over a sloppy track this summer at Saratoga. He finished second behind the talented Notacatbutallama in October after setting the pace in the one-mile Incurable Optimist, but he faded badly to finish 10 lengths behind that same rival when the pair met again at 1 1/16 miles four weeks later.

“It’s obvious his best distance is probably seven furlongs,” said Contessa, who sent a half-dozen horses down from New York for the winter. “Even though he ran second going a mile in that stakes, it was more like he was just hanging on at the end rather than finishing strong. He looks like a sprinter – he’s 16 hands, but built like a tank – and he acts like a sprinter, but I never really had a real chance to sprint him on the turf in New York. I can have that opportunity with him this winter in Florida.”

Contessa also likes the fact that Bernie the Jet will not likely be on the lead going five furlongs as he has been in most of his races around two turns.

“He’s not a one-dimensional horse, he absolutely does not have to go to the lead,” Contessa said. “I think he’ll be a better horse if he can sit off the pace, and he probably won’t be a speed horse sprinting on the turf.”

Bernie the Jet will be reunited with Javier Castellano, who guided him to his second-place finish in the Incurable Optimist.

Rip Roarin Ritchie is the lone stakes winner in the field, having led throughout to capture Monmouth Park’s five-furlong Tyro on Aug. 5. He has started just once since that outing, finishing fifth after prompting the pace in the 5 1/2-furlong Laurel Futurity on Oct. 27. Rip Roarin Ritchie will compete under a $75,000 claiming tag Thursday.

Skylander has started just once, winning by nine lengths when making a sensational debut going 4 1/2 furlongs over the Polytrack at Keeneland on April 6. Skylander is bred for grass, being by Bring the Heat out of the Grade 3 turf-winning mare Heads Will Roll.

Party Lad, who has yet to race on turf, should force the early pace along with the Ward pair, coming off a 4 1/4-length wire-to-wire turf win going six furlongs over the main track at Penn National on Nov. 23.

Sayaad, like Bernie the Jet, has shipped down from New York for the winter and enters his 2-year-old finale off a maiden win over the Belmont Park turf course on Sept. 23.