CHESTER - Darley Stable is a nom de course for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, one the most powerful figures in global racing. The Sheikh's horses have been winning major stakes at the most prominent tracks on a fistful of continents throughout the past three decades.
And now, a Darley representative is about to take a trip down country roads - to the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort on Aug. 4.
Le Bernardin is somewhat of a late developer, not commencing his racing career until early January of this year. But Le Bernardin has now won three of five starts, with his most recent effort resulting in a photo-finish score in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 17.
Mike Luzzi, a 42-year-old journeyman rider with over 3,300 career victories, was aboard. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin credited Luzzi's strong handling as a significant factor in the win.
"Le Bernardin seemed to be trying to lug in (toward the rail) for much of the race," McLaughlin said. "But Mike kept him focused."
A young, inexperienced Thoroughbred will sometimes take a path of his own design, which is not always conducive to winning races. Maturity, though, is tugging hard on Le Bernardin's dark bay shoulders. His career earnings now total $146,000. He's poised to bring in a great deal more.
He has the capability to win when running on the front end throughout - that's the manner in which Le Bernardin broke his maiden at Aqueduct on March 10. But he seems to perform best when stalking the early pace, which Le Bernadin did when winning an Aqueduct allowance in April and the Pegasus six weeks ago.
At Monmouth, Le Bernardin clocked a final time of 1:44.51 for the 1 1/16-mile Pegasus. The West Virginia Derby stretches a half-furlong farther, but Le Bernardin's pedigree indicates he should handle the 1 1/8-mile distance. That undoubtedly was one reason the Sheikh was willing to spend $325,000 when purchasing him at the Fasig-Tipton auction at Saratoga in August, 2010.
Bred in Kentucky by Mike G. Rutherford, Le Bernardin is by the sire Bernardini, who was also a Darley color-bearer. Bernardini's accomplishments included victories in the 2006 editions of the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes and the 1 -mile Travers Stakes, and he was North America's champion three-year-old that season.
Le Bernardin's dam, La Rosa, won the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes (also a nine-furlong event) at age two. And La Rosa's sire, Wild Again, was victorious in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Classic in 1984. The branches of Le Bernardin's family tree include the names Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Northern Dancer and Native Dancer. There's stamina aplenty in that group.
The 51-year-old McLaughlin is originally from Lexington, Ky., and now lives in Garden City, N.Y. A former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, he has spent nearly two decades as a Maktoum family associate, and was thrice the leading trainer at their Nad al Sheba Race Course in Dubai.
Invasor, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic North America's Horse of the Year in 2006, was a McLaughlin trainee. McLaughlin also won that year's Belmont Stakes with Jazil, and in 2008 he was the leading trainer at Saratoga.
Prior to this year, McLaughlin has had one starter in the West Virginia Derby. That occurred in 2004, when his 9-1 shot Ecclesiastic was in contention entering the far turn, but then was eased in the stretch.
McLaughlin's career resume includes 190 stakes scores - he has achieved an 18.1 percent strike rate in that department. Last weekend, McLaughlin won Saratoga's Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks with the Maktoum British-bred filly, Questing.
This is an outfit that views high quality as the norm. And Le Bernardin could soon prove to be a perfect fit.
NOTES: July 29 will be a "Fan Appreciation Day" at Mountaineer. Hot dogs, soft drinks and beer will be available at the trackside concession for $1 each. . . . Strike Impact, who won Mountaineer's Independence Day Stakes in a photo finish on July 3, is a definite starter in the $100,000 West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker's Cup on the West Virginia Derby undercard. Last year, Strike Impact was the even-money favorite in the Speaker's Cup, but finished second by a neck.