SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - His impressive victory in the Preakness was hardly noticed, with all eyes riveted on Barbaro after the Kentucky Derby winner's horrifying breakdown.
A few months later, though, Bernardini won the Jim Dandy Stakes even more convincingly and is now on the verge of becoming racing's next 3-year-old star.
"I think we're looking for a new champion, and I'm hoping he can deliver," Bernardini's trainer Tom Albertrani said.
Bernardini will get his chance Saturday, when the imposing bay colt takes on six rivals in the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
A winner in four of five career starts, Bernardini is the even-money favorite with his chief competition coming from Haskell Invitational winner Bluegrass Cat, the 2-1 second choice.
Bernardini won the Preakness by 5 lengths, then romped to a nine-length victory in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 29. The ease with which he won has opposing trainers in awe of the colt's potential.
"Bernardini by far is one of the nicest animals we've seen in the past decade," John Ward gushed.
Ward again will send out Minister's Bid and Dr. Pleasure to take on Bernardini - Minister's Bid was second and Dr. Pleasure fourth in the Jim Dandy.
Then there's Todd Pletcher, who trains Bluegrass Cat and also entered High Cotton in the 1-mile Travers. Bluegrass Cat and Bernardini, the leading 3-year-olds in training, will meet for the first time.
"I suppose all horses are beatable," Pletcher said, referring to Bernardini. "He's an exceptional, gifted horse. I have been impressed with his races as anyone's I have seen in a long time. Even though he is a very accomplished horse, he is relatively inexperienced."
Barbaro might still be the most well-known horse on the planet as he recovers from his injuries, but Bernardini is becoming a favorite, too.
Albertrani has noticed his colt's popularity at Saratoga, not to mention the reaction from Bernardini while being walked along the horse path on the grounds.
"He went through the crowd the other day and never got bothered, never got excited," Albertrani said. "Actually, he enjoyed it. People clapped a little bit, and he'd show his little strut."