07/31/2006 12:00AM

Vanquished unwilling to concede Travers

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Horsephotos
Todd Pletcher's 3-year-old High Cotton (right) breezes four furlongs in 48.17 seconds Monday in preparation for a possible start in the Travers.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Bernardini's spectacular nine-length victory in Saturday's Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes was still the talk of the backstretch here Monday morning, with everybody in complete agreement that they had witnessed a special performance from the leader of the 3-year-old division.

Among those quickest to praise Bernardini's effort were John Ward, Nick Zito, Todd Pletcher, and Jimmy Jerkens, the trainers of the five horses who gave futile chase in the Jim Dandy.

Ward saddled Minister's Bid and Dr. Pleasure, who finished second and fourth behind Bernardini. Bernardini earned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure for his Jim Dandy win.

"I was pleased with the effort by both my horses," Ward said as owner John Oxley nodded in agreement on Monday. "They just ran into a superior racehorse at this point of the season. Bernardini didn't look like he had any holes on Saturday, but I've been in this position myself with a top 3-year-old. The key now is trying to keep him superior."

Ward and Oxley will have the third member of their powerful 3-year-old arsenal in action on Sunday when Strong Contender heads to Monmouth Park for the Grade 1 Haskell.

"I'm not sure what our plans will be regarding the Travers," said Ward. "Right now our story line is that we'll see what happens in the Haskell on Sunday and make any future plans for all three horses on Monday."

Zito was pleased with Hemingway's Key's third-place finish in the Jim Dandy and came up with another potential Travers candidate earlier in the day when Hesanoldsalt beat a good field of second-level allowance horses that included the 3-5 favorite Corinthian.

"Bernardini was great and he's probably going to have to have a bad day for anybody to beat him in the Travers," said Zito. "But you've still got to play the game. That's why we're here."

Zito said if Hesanoldsalt, who is owned by Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Farm, has a good month he would definitely consider wheeling him back in the Travers.

"One thing about Mrs. Weber, she'll always let me roll the dice," said Zito.

One horse not likely to be facing Bernardini again in the Travers is Sunriver, who finished sixth and last in the Jim Dandy.

"He wrenched his right hind ankle," Pletcher said of Sunriver. "He has some inflammation and heat and we might even take some X-rays later this week. Right now I'd say he's very unlikely for the Travers. Obviously, he didn't fire and he's now 0 for 2 over a sloppy track. Johnny [Velazquez] said at no point did he seem to be handling the track and I'd guess in the future he just won't run if the track comes up sloppy."

Pletcher could still have a contender for the Travers in High Cotton, who won a pair of stakes before being narrowly beaten by Deputy Glitters in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby. High Cotton worked a half-mile in 48.17 seconds here Monday.

"Obviously I'm not excited about running against Bernardini the way he performed on Saturday, but the race is four weeks away and it is the Travers," said Pletcher. "Right now I'm going to prepare High Cotton as if he's going to run."

Jerkens was still scratching his head over Corinthian's disappointing effort on Saturday in his first start since finishing first (disqualified to third) in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

"I really can't figure it out," Jerkens said Monday. "He came out of the race fine. We probably rushed him along a little bit to make the race with the Travers in mind. He'd been just brilliant in the morning, just like he was back in Florida. For the moment I'd like to get his skin disease under control, that couldn't have helped him on Saturday, and I'd say we're maybe 50-50 to run in the Travers. I might even bring him back in another allowance race and wait for the Jerome back home at Belmont."

Jerkens was more upbeat when the discussion turned to his reigning Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller, who worked five furlongs in 58.06 over a very firm Oklahoma turf course on Monday in preparation for Sunday's Grade 2 Fourstardave Stakes. Artie Schiller finished second, beaten a nose by Miesque's Approval, in the Maker's Mark Mile, and third, a neck behind Better Talk Now, in Pimlico's Dixie Stakes in his only two starts since upsetting Leroidesanimaux in the Breeders' Cup.

"I was very pleased with the way he worked this morning because he wasn't doing a lot of lead switches like he has been both working in the morning and during his races," said Jerkens.

One in, one out of Whitney

Saturday's $750,000 Whitney Handicap gained one starter and lost another potential candidate when trainer Shug McGaughey confirmed that Survivalist was in and Zito said Commentator was definitely out of the Grade 1 race.

Survivalist will bring a three-race win streak into the Whitney. A homebred son of Danzig, Survivalist won the Grade 3 Gotham and was a distant second behind Bellamy Road in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at 3.

"He worked good yesterday, he went a half in 48 and change and galloped out in 1:01 and change," said McGaughey on Monday. "This is a big step up for us but we might as well give it a try. His last three races have all been good. This will be a caliber of horses he's never seen before but I think he'll be competitive with them."

Zito said he will await either the Grade 1, seven-furlong Forego here on Sept. 2 or the 1 1/8-mile Woodward the following week with Commentator, who has made only one start since finishing a distant third to Saint Liam in the 2005 Woodward.

"We considered the Whitney up until this morning, but this will give us some extra time to prepare for the next one," said Zito on Monday. "It's not that I don't think he's good enough to run in the Whitney. I just don't think he's up to it with only one race against New York-breds under his belt. My first priority is to consider doing what's best for the horse and I just can't do it right now."

Andromeda's Hero sharp in victory

Zito will still send out a pair in the Whitney with Sun King and Wanderin Boy both confirmed for the race. He may also have found himself another starter for the Woodward following Andromeda's Hero's gritty victory in Monday's third race. Andromeda's Hero raced wide and appeared hopelessly beaten at the eighth pole before surging late under jockey Cornelio Velasquez to catch Bank President in the final 40 yards of the optional claiming race.

"I was really happy with that performance," said Zito. "All good horses need a break once in a while, dropping back against softer competition, although as it turned out it wasn't so easy. But considering the circumstances I thought he ran a big race and it will be good for him down the road, not only confidence-wise but because Cornelio had to keep him in the bridle early and he should be able to keep a little closer to the pace next time."

Stakes horses on work tab

Pletcher's Haskell-bound Bluegrass Cat (five furlongs in 1:00.12) was among a number of horses prepping for upcoming stakes who worked both over the main track and Oklahoma turf on a very busy Monday morning. Showing Up, whose only loss in five starts was his sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, went five furlongs in 58.97 over the Oklahoma turf. Showing Up rallied to an easy win in the $1 million Colonial Turf Cup making his grass debut on June 24 and is among the nominees for Monday's Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Breeders' Cup Stakes.