A Triple Crown series that has provided stark contrasts of racing's extremes at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes now marches on to New York for the June 10 Belmont Stakes, which will be anti-climactic, no matter who runs.
In the space of 48 hours, the Belmont has gone from being a race that could have had a Triple Crown bid by Barbaro, to one that might not have the winners of either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Barbaro, who provided one of the highlights of the year with his dominating performance in the Derby, obviously will race no more after suffering career-ending injuries in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico.
Bernardini, the Preakness winner, is questionable to participate in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. He came out of the race well, according to Tom Albertrani, his trainer, but he has not been committed to the Belmont by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, whose Darley Stable owns Bernardini.
"Sheikh Mohammed will make the decision on wherever and whenever he runs next," said Jimmy Bell, the president of Darley USA, on Monday.
If Bernardini does not run in the Belmont and instead awaits races such as the Jim Dandy and the Travers at Saratoga, the Belmont will not have the Derby and Preakness winners for the first time since 2000. That year, Fusaichi Pegasus won the Derby, and Red Bullet the Preakness. Neither ran in the Belmont, which was won by Commendable, who skipped the Preakness after finishing 17th in the Derby.
There is the very real possibility that no horse will run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year. Of the 20 horses who ran in the Derby on May 6, only three - Barbaro, Brother Derek, and Sweetnorthernsaint - came back in the Preakness.
Brother Derek, who finished in a dead heat for fourth in the Derby, was fourth again in the Preakness. He returned to California on Sunday, and will skip the Belmont and point for races this summer and fall.
"That's the end of the road for us," Cisco Alvarado, the assistant to trainer Dan Hendricks, said of the Triple Crown.
Sweetnorthernsaint, who was seventh at the Derby, was second in the Preakness, but emerged from the race with an injury to the quarter of his right front hoof. His trainer, Mike Trombetta, on Monday said the Belmont was "going to be considered, but we won't decide for at least another week."
Bernardini got a Beyer Speed Figure of 113 for the Preakness, which was slightly higher than the 111 Barbaro got in the Derby. That underscores how well Bernardini performed in a race that was overshadowed by Barbaro's tragic breakdown.
"He was a deserving winner in a most unfortunate situation," Bell said. "What we take the most pride in is that our horse was making his fourth lifetime start, his first start around two turns, in front of 118,000 people, and he was the consummate picture of focus before the race. He didn't turn a hair.
"He gave us all a lot of confidence," Bell said, referring to the team of Albertrani, jockey Javier Castellano, and Sheikh Mohammed's principal adviser, John Ferguson, who flew in from England for the Preakness.
Bell added: "It was a bizarre, surreal afternoon."
It was particularly so at the stakes barn after the race. Normally a scene of wild partying and conviviality among winners and losers following a Preakness, there was only a sparse gathering of visitors because of the pall cast over the track by Barbaro's breakdown. Those who milled about were shellshocked and ashen.
As of Monday, those considered definite for the Belmont were Bluegrass Cat, Bob and John, Hemingway's Key, Jazil, Oh So Awesome, Steppenwolfer, and Sunriver.
In addition to Bernardini and Sweetnorthernsaint, the possibilities included Deputy Glitters, High Cotton, and Lewis Michael.
Sunriver and Lewis Michael finished one-two in the Peter Pan Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park. Sunriver received a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in that 1 1/8-mile race.
Todd Pletcher, who trains Sunriver, also trains Bluegrass Cat and High Cotton. Bluegrass Cat, the second-place finisher in the Derby, breezed four furlongs in 48.59 seconds on Sunday at Belmont Park. High Cotton captured the Sir Barton Stakes on Saturday's Preakness undercard at Pimlico.
Steppenwolfer, who was third in the Derby, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.23 on the Belmont Park training track on Sunday.
Jazil, who finished in a dead heat for fourth with Brother Derek in the Derby, breezed a half-mile in 49.09 seconds on Sunday at Belmont Park.
"He's running," said Kiaran McLaughlin, Jazil's trainer, on Monday. "He came out of the Derby well. We need to get a Grade 1 win for him."
McLaughlin said Fernando Jara would retain the mount for the Belmont.
Hemingway's Key, who was third in the Preakness in his best performance this year, earned a spot in the Belmont, trainer Nick Zito said.
- additional reporting by David Grening