2006 was one heck of a year for the Triple Crown, in the West you had Brother Derek, in Arkansas you had Lawyer Ron, and in Florida you had the unbeaten Barbaro. Lawyer Ron, seemed to be another version of Cigar, not so hot the turf, but when moved to dirt he blazed a win streak of seven races, going clear into the spring of his 3yr old year. Those wins included the Risen Star Stakes, the Southewest, the Rebel, and the Arkansas Derby. Brother Derek had won the Santa Catalina, San Rafael, and Santa Anita Derby. Lastly, Barbaro in 2006 had started off with a win in the Tropical Park Derby, a grass race. He then won his first start on dirt, in the Holly Bull, which was on a sloppy track. He then in his last prep won the FL Derby, over Sharp Humor, on a dry fast track.
On Derby day, Barbaro's unbeaten record did not seem to impress the crowd enough to earn him favoritism. But when the horses rounded the far turn Barbaro, showed the world what he could really do. As they hit the top of the stretch, Barbaro exploded, displaying his brilliant turn of foot, and romped to the wire, winning by over six lengths, the largest since Assault's eight lenght victory. Barbaro had just beaten a star studded field of horse, being the first horse since the 50's to win the Derby off of a five week rest. He was on top of the world, and now the Preakness favorite.
I will not rehash Barbaro's tragic breakdown, during the Preakness, which was suppose to be the crowning of racings new king, and it did, just not the the horse we were all expecting. In the Preakness came tragedy, but with it came a correntation, the crowning of Bernardini. Bernardini was not very well known. Racing only three times prior to the Preakness, winning twice, his two wins were a maiden victory and in the one mile Withers Stakes. He was supposed to be Barbaro's biggest challenge. After Barbaro was pulled up Bernardini sat off the pace before making a run on the far turn. Without Barbaro there to challenge, Bernardini made a mockery of the Preakness field winning by 5 1/4 lengths. He went on that year to win the Jim Dandy, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, before being beaten by Invasor in the Breeders Cup Classic.
This year almost reminds me of the year Ruffian broke down, because, after her came along Forego and Wajima, who provided many thrills for us, a lot like Bernardini did after Barbaro broke down. I know I'll be raked over the coals for this, but on dirt, I think Bernardini was the better of the two. Bernardini won so effortlessly, you would see him running along, looking like he was out for a morning gallop, until you looked up and saw the splits. He won some of the most prestigious races during the spring, summer and fall. Did he lose the Classic yes he did, but he ran into another great one in Invasor, who had the age advantage, and almost anyone will tell that a great older horse will almost always beat a great three year old. He won the Gold Cup and Travers, so easily, it was hard to deny his brilliance. It is a shame he was not brought back as a four year old. Can you image, a Classic with Bernardini, a four year old Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Hard Spun and Street Sense? That would be a great race.
As I said, on dirt I feel Bernardini was better, but overall Barbaro wins hands down. This horse, before the Derby was turf horse. On turf his talent came naturally, he had that brilliant turn of foot all the time, that on dirt, didn't really show up until the Derby. Edgar Prado, in his book, compares Bararo to Kittens Joy, and even thought this horse could win the Arc. But what made Barbaro even greater was his ability to adapt. How many horses can be grade on caliber on one surface, then translate it to another? Cigar couldn't, never coming near the grade one level on turf that he achieved while racing on dirt. Though Barbaro did not get to strut his stuff in the summer or fall he definitely was a force in the winter and spring, winning the Tropical Park Derby, the Holly Bull, and the Florida Derby. We can only imagine the horse he would've been if he had gotten the chance to continue to race and mature.
2006 was truly a good year for racing, even with the breakdowns. We saw champions like Barbaro, Bernardini and Invasor rise to unbelievable heights. Did we hit some low points to, like Barbaro, Fleet Indian, and Pine Island, without a doubt, but if we are to continue to keep this sport alive we need to take the bad with the good sometimes. If you ask me the good we saw that year was unbelievable. Lets be like Barbaro and show courage, and fight for the sport we all love. That is the only way we will be able to keep this sport alive, and see more of these beautiful animals captivate the nation, leaving us in awe. So, what's your decision?