06/17/2012 5:45PM

Monmouth: Le Bernardin may have punched ticket to Haskell by taking Pegasus

Ryan Denver/Equiphoto
Le Bernardin (3), under Mike Luzzi, holds off Easter Gift and Sheldon Russell by a neck in the Grade 3 Pegasus.

Le Bernardin, who flopped when thrust into graded stakes competition for the first time following a first-level allowance victory, rebounded nicely to capture Sunday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Pegasus for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park.

Despite lugging in throughout the stretch, Le Bernardin ($12) managed to hold off Easter Gift by a neck, completing 1 1/16  miles on a fast main track in 1:44.51. He stalked the pace set by eventual fourth-place finisher Innocent Man through fractions of 47.73 seconds and 1:12.17 before swinging three wide and taking a short lead coming into the stretch.

Good Morning Diva, winner of the Calder Derby and fourth in the Grade 2 Peter Pan last time out, finished third, 1 ¼ lengths behind, as the even-money favorite.

The connections of the top three finishers said they would consider coming back for the $1 million Haskell invitational on July 29.

“It was a great win and an excellent ride by Mike Luzzi,” said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.  “The horse seemed to be lugging in for much of the race, but Mike did a great job.  I’ve never noticed that he’s been a tough horse to ride in the past, but Mike knows him well and did a great job today.

 “The Haskell is obviously a race we’ll look at after we see how he comes out of this.”

It was a bittersweet afternoon for McLaughlin as Unbridled’s Way, the Darley Stable-owned stablemate of Le Bernardin, pulled up and was vanned off in the Pegasus.

Easter Gift, unbeaten in his first two career starts, gave a good effort in his first try around two turns for trainer Nick Zito.

“We’ll definitely have to think about the Haskell after his race today,” Zito said. “He handled two turns just fine and came running at the end.  I thought it was a very good race and something we can build off of.”

Tim Hills, the trainer of Good Morning Diva, said he felt his horse’s chances were compromised by being pinned on the rail.

“I understand why we were where we were. I just wish we weren’t there,” Hill said.  “The race played out like that.  I don’t know about the Haskell. I’ll have to talk that over with the owners.”

LeBernardin, a son of Bernardini, was making his first start around two turns and cutting back in distance from 1 1/8 miles after flashing speed and backing up to finish last of 10 in the Peter Pan. He has won 3 of 5 starts overall.

* Inspired ($6) opened up a big lead, then held off 4-5 favorite Classy Zip by three-quarters of a length in the $62,640 Fort Monmouth, a five-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares.