Darley has been dealt a sad blow with the death of its popular stalwart Bernardini due to complications from laminitis. The son of A.P. Indy was 18.

A champion homebred for Sheikh Mohammed, Bernardini has reigned as a high-profile member of the Kentucky scene throughout his 15 seasons at Darley’s Jonabell Farm, his stud career capped by the presence of 15 Group or Grade 1 winners and latterly highlighted by a flourishing record as a broodmare sire.

The charismatic bay was bred to be good as an A.P. Indy son of Grade 1 Starlet Stakes heroine Cara Rafaela, by Quiet American, and handled by Tom Albertrani, justified those expectations in style. After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park by eight lengths on his second start, he captured the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct to set him up for a showdown with Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro in the Preakness Stakes. Sadly, as is well remembered, such anticipation flipped to tragedy as Barbaro had to be pulled up having suffered an ultimately fatal injury nearing the wire first time round, leaving Bernardini to power to a wide-margin victory.

It was Sheikh Mohammed’s first win in an American Triple Crown race and from then on, Bernardini was imperious, his summer campaign taking in easy successes in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, by nine and 7 1/2 lengths respectively, prior to an equally dominant win over older horses in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

Bernardini: Sheikh Mohammed’s homebred was a champion at three – Photo: George Selwyn

It was expected that Bernardini would end his career on a high a month later in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs but he came up against a determined foe in Sheikh Hamdan’s South American import Invasor, who denied him by a length. 

However, that defeat did little to detract from a championship three-year-old campaign and Bernardini was duly installed at Darley’s Jonabell Farm for the 2007 season at a fee of $100,000.

Bernardini never lacked for opportunity; indeed, he spent seven seasons standing for a six-figure fee. Yet at the same time, he consistently rewarded his supporters.

There were four Grade 1 winners in that highly anticipated first crop, namely Stay Thirsty (Travers Stakes and Cigar Mile), To Honor And Serve (Woodward Stakes and Cigar Mile), A.Z. Warrior (Frizette Stakes) and Biondetti (Gran Criterium). Second crop representative Alpha later handed him back-to-back successes in the Travers Stakes when dead-heating with Golden Ticket in the 2012 edition.

A.P. Indy blood, as well as that belonging to his sire Seattle Slew, has never really flourished in Europe yet for a moment, there was a suggestion that Bernardini would buck the trend. Having been naturally heavily supported by Sheikh Mohammed in addition to an array of leading international breeders during those early seasons, the stallion came to be well represented in Europe and to good effect, as Godolphin’s Biondetti struck at Group 1 level in Italy as a two-year-old and Andrew Rosen’s talented homebred Theyskens’theory ran third in the 2010 Fillies’ Mile at Ascot. Gamilati also took the 2011 Cherry Hinton Stakes.

That early proof of intermittent affinity for turf was further backed up by his results in Australasia, where he left behind the Group 1 winners Boban, Ruud Awakening and Go Indy Go from his eight shuttle trips.

Ultimately though, the typical Bernardini thrives on dirt in the US, often peaking once let loose around two turns. 

To date, he is the sire of 861 winners and 80 stakes scorers from 1,915 crops of racing age. 

It has to be said that so far Bernardini has been an underwhelming sire of sires – the likes of Stay Thirsty, To Honor And Serve, Algorithms and Alpha have been disappointing at stud – but much like his damsire Quiet American before him, he has been quick to develop into an outstanding broodmare sire.

His oldest daughters are still a relatively young 13-years-old yet between them are responsible for 53 stakes winners including 11 at Grade 1 level. It’s a high-profile list that includes Maxfield (by Street Sense), Colonel Liam (by Liam’s Map), Mo Town (by Uncle Mo), Serengeti Empress (by Alternation) and Catholic Boy (by More Than Ready).

Catholic Boy: an example of Bernardini’s prowess as a broodmare sire

To further underline his growing influence in that sphere, he became the youngest stallion to reach 50 black-type winners as a damsire in May when Du Jour (by Temple City) struck in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes.

Bernardini was cared for during his career at Jonabell by his longtime groom, Philip Hampton.

Michael Banahan, Director of Farm Operations for Godolphin USA, said: “Bernardini was one of a kind. 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. It was an honour to be a custodian of this Classic-winning stallion whose legacy will live long as a broodmare sire.”

Tom Albertrani, added: “Bernardini was such a majestic animal. He was very talented, one of the best horses I’ve ever been around. I just feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to train him. He was a star.’

Jimmy Bell, President of Godolphin USA, also paid tribute to the horse. He said: “Bernardini was Sheikh Mohammed’s first winner of a Triple Crown race – and a homebred one, too – and then a leading sire. We have been blessed to have him. A beautiful horse, and a lovely character, we are lucky to have so many of his daughters on the farm to continue his legacy.”