Champion Bernardini at Jonabell Farm. Photo courtesy of Darley.

Champion Bernardini Euthanized at Age 18

By Alicia Hughes

Champion and classic winner Bernardini, one of the greatest tributes to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s breeding program, was euthanized at Jonabell Farm due to complications from laminitis, Darley America announced on July 30. The son of A.P. Indy was 18.

A homebred product of the Darley operation, Bernardini carried expectations that came with his regal bloodlines and delivered on that promise with an exceptional career both on the racetrack and in the breeding shed. Out of the Grade 1-winning Quiet American mare Cara Rafaela, Bernardini was unraced as a juvenile but developed into one of the best of his generation during his Eclipse Award-winning sophomore campaign.

The dark bay horse, trained by Tom Albertrani, won six of his eight career starts and earned more than $3 million during his lone season of racing in 2006. In addition to his prestigious triumphs in the Preakness Stakes (G1) – Sheikh Mohammed’s first victory in an American Triple Crown race – and Travers Stakes (G1), he also scored a dominant 6 ¾-length win over older horses in that year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). 

Though he was bested by a length by future Hall of Famer Invasor (ARG) in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Bernardini earned divisional honors for champion 3-year-old male before beginning his initial season at stud at Jonabell for the 2007 season. 

“Bernardini was such a majestic animal,” Albertrani said of his former trainee. “He was very talented, one of the best horses I’ve ever been around. I just feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to train him. He was a star.”

The second part of Bernardini’s career would prove as exceptional as his on-track exploits. He sired no fewer than four Grade 1 winners in his first crop including Travers and Cigar Mile (G1) victor Stay Thirsty and Woodward (G1) and Cigar Mile winner To Honor and Serve.

In his ensuing northern hemisphere crops, his top performers included Godolphin’s homebred Grade 1 winner Alpha, Humana Distaff (G1) winner Dame Dorothy, Vosburgh (G1) winner Takaful, and Stonestreet’s top-level winners Cavorting and Rachel’s Valentina – the latter a homebred daughter of Medaglia d’Oro’s champion daughter Rachel Alexandra.

Bernardini also shuttled to Australia for eight seasons between 2008 and 2015, siring Group 1 winners Boban, Ruud Awakening, and Go Indy Go. In recent years, he has also stamped himself as one of the best broodmare sires in the history of the breed. 

In May 2021, he became the youngest stallion ever to reach 50 black-type winners as a broodmare sire and he currently has 54 black-type winners, 32 graded stakes winners, and 11 Grade 1 winners as a maternal grandsire, including Maxfield, Catholic Boy, Serengeti Empress, Dunbar Road, Colonel Liam and Paris Lights.

“I think Bernardini probably as quickly and as rapidly as any young stallion has stamped himself as being just a phenomenal broodmare sire,” Jimmy Bell, President of Godolphin USA, said of Bernardini’s broodmare sire prowess last summer. “He’s shown that ability to get that top-class colt and his daughters, whether or not they are great racemares, it seems the blood is there and the production speaks for itself. It’s been really amazing the success he’s had as a broodmare sire as young as he is. Usually you begin to see that late in their careers but … almost as soon as those fillies are retired they start showing up as producers.”

Bernardini was cared for during his 15-year tenure at Jonabell by his longtime groom, Philip Hampton. To date, he has produced 48 graded stakes winners and 85 stakes winners from 12 crops of racing age with progeny earnings of more than $99.1 million.

“Bernardini was one of a kind,” said Michael Banahan, Director of Farm Operations for Godolphin USA. “From the day he was born, he exuded class. He was that crop’s best foal, best yearling and best racehorse. His brilliance was only surpassed by his wonderful character. He will be sorely missed by all on the farm but especially by his handler for the past 15 years, Philip Hampton.”

“We have been blessed to have him,” Bell added. “A beautiful horse, and a lovely character, we are lucky to have so many of his daughters on the farm to continue his legacy.”