05/26/2006 12:00AM

Handicapping myths debunked

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Bernardini's lack of two-turn experience didn't hurt him in the Preakness.

NEW YORK - Conventional wisdom took a beating last weekend as racing myths were busted wide open on both sides of the Atlantic.

The first long-held canard to go by the boards was the idea that horses returning from Dubai rarely, if ever, recapture their best form. Tell that to Invasor, who shortly after arriving in Florida from Uruguay this past winter, was shipped to Dubai for the March 25 UAE Derby in which he finished fourth. Last Friday, less than two months after his return to the U.S., he won the Pimlico Special, clearly having suffered no ill effects from his round-trip journey of 14,600 miles.

And on Saturday, Gaff, sent to Dubai, where he finished fifth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, ran to form in his first start since returning to America when he finished third in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap.

The key to shipping a horse halfway around the world and back again lies in a trainer's ability to determine whether a horse is a good shipper. If he is, the trainer must know how to ship a horse with the least possible stress inflicted. Some trainers have the knack, others don't. Invasor's trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, who has been sending horses back and forth between America and Dubai for 12 years, is obviously a man who has the knack.

So too does Carlos Laffon-Parias, who sent the Chantilly, France-based Laverock to Hong Kong for the April 23 Queen Elizabeth II Cup only to watch him finish a dull 12th behind Team Valor hotshot Irridescence. Not to worry. Upon his return to France, Laverock won last Sunday's Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp. The round-trip distance between Paris and Hong Kong is 12,000 miles, but Laverock took it in his stride.

At Pimlico last Saturday, Bernardini smashed a pair of handicapping myths that have long been held as gospel. The first is the idea that a horse must have three or four races as a 3-year-old under his belt before his first appearance in a Triple Crown race. Barbaro made mincemeat of that one when he won the Derby off just two races in the previous four months. Bernardini confirmed the less-is-better route with his Preakness triumph off just two starts in the previous 4 1/2 months.

Equally revealing about Bernardini's Preakness victory is that it was his first try around two turns. Oh how we warned against such a daunting prospect! Abandon all hope ye who enter the Preakness without having been around two turns. Or so the conventional wisdom went.

Getting around two turns has far less to do with a horse's ability to stay a mile, or 1 1/4 miles, or 1 1/2 miles, than it does with his ability to maneuver a pair of 180 degree turns. Neither Sunday Silence nor Easy Goer had any trouble staying 1 1/4 miles, but the long striding Easy Goer could not handle the tight turns at Churchill Downs, Pimlico, or Gulfstream and so went down to defeat in the Derby, Preakness, and Breeders' Cup Classic. At Belmont, with its wide, sweeping turns, the advantage the close-coupled Sunday Silence had at those other tracks was nullified. Easy Goer didn't have to shorten his stride on the Belmont turns and so cruised to victory in both the Belmont Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup among other Grade 1 races.

Bernardini had had no difficulty with the single rather tight turn when winning at both Gulfstream and Aqueduct. As he is bred to stay at least 1 1/4 miles and won the one-mile Withers in a style that suggested he would relish the added distance of the Preakness, there was no reason to doubt his ability to get around two turns.

Having provided Sheikh Mohammed with a long-desired American classic, Bernardini is now the nation's leading 3-year-old in training. With their classic goal in hand, his connections have shown wisdom in skipping a Belmont Stakes which, at 1 1/2 miles on dirt, is a race that leads to nowhere. Bypassing it is also one way of ensuring that he will still be standing come autumn.

The only 3-year-old on the horizon who may have a chance of overhauling Bernardini is his quasi-stablemate from Godolphin Racing, Discreet Cat. Bernardini is already Coral's 6-1 favorite for the BC Classic, for which Discreet Cat and Godolphin's Dubai World Cup winner Electrocutionist are also being aimed. After the Breeders' Cup, Sheikh Mohammed will determine which of his maroon-and-white Darley runners are brought into the Godolphin fold. As Bernardini is a perfect fit for the 2007 Dubai World Cup, he may well be wearing Godolphin blue next year.