05/18/2011 3:00PM

Preakness: Albertrani has bittersweet memories of 2006 win by Bernardini

Jim Lisa
King Congie will attempt to transfer his good form on turf and synthetic surfaces to dirt in Saturday's Preakness.

BALTIMORE – It was the biggest win of his training career, but at the time trainer Tom Albertrani couldn’t truly enjoy it.

When Bernardini roared to a 5 1/4-length victory in the 2006 Preakness Stakes, the performance was overshadowed by the shocking breakdown of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who had been pulled up by jockey Edgar Prado as the field passed the finish line the first time with an injury to his right hind leg.

Alternating his binoculars between his horse and Barbaro being attended to, Albertrani felt mixed emotions as his colt powered away from the remainder of the field in the stretch.

“Obviously I was happy to see Bernardini win, but you’re a little reserved by seeing a horse that’s been injured in a race like that,” Albertrani recalled this week. “As far as enjoying it, you do but there’s something there that definitely holds you back from feeling the accomplishment of really winning the race.”

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Albertrani, 53, is back in the Preakness on Saturday with King Congie, a horse who is proven on turf and synthetic surfaces, but has yet to run well in two starts on dirt. In his most recent race, King Congie finished third, beaten a head, in the Blue Grass Stakes over Keeneland’s Polytrack.

While Albertrani enters this year’s Preakness believing King Congie belongs with this group of 3-year-olds, he came into the 2006 Preakness extremely confident in Bernardini’s chances. This, despite the fact Bernardini had only run three times in his career, winning the Withers against three horses in his only stakes start. In the Preakness, he was going to face one of the most dominant Derby winners in recent memory.

“His Derby was as impressive as any horse could win the Derby,” Albertrani said of Barbaro. “I knew I had something pretty special there myself. You don’t want to ever foresee the outcome and I can’t ever say that we were going to beat him – you can’t say that until it actually happens. I was just going into the race with a lot of confidence that my horse was a serious horse.”

Bernardini went on to validate his Preakness victory by taking the Jim Dandy, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup before finishing second to Invasor in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

King Congie has a way to go before he could be considered in the class of a Barbaro, but he could be undefeated this year. He won the Tropical Park Derby at Calder on New Year’s Day and finished first in the Hallandale Beach at Gulfstream on Feb. 6, but was disqualified for drifting out in the stretch and impeding his stablemate Brilliant Speed. In the Blue Grass, he had a little trouble entering the first turn before finishing fast to get beat a head by Brilliant Speed, another Albertrani trainee who came back to run seventh in the Kentucky Derby.

“The question is the same as with Brilliant Speed, is he going to handle the dirt?” Albertrani said. “We don’t know for sure. But he did make the switch to the Polytrack and he ran a huge race. The reason I think we’re going there is we definitely think we have a contender that will fit with this group.’’

King Congie is owned by the West Point Thoroughbreds and is named for Congie DeVito, who served as that outfit’s communications director. DeVito died in February from complications of Osteogenesis Impefecta, or brittle bone disease.