Bern Identity, who will make his three-year-old debut in Saturday's Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, is generally regarded as the biggest danger to undefeated Shanghai Bobby, the 4-5 morning-line favorite.
The son of Bernstein, who is owned by Lori and George Hall, is a Grade 2 winner with purse earnings of $616,000 from six starts. Rated second in the morning line at 4-1, Bern Identity faced Shanghai Bobby once last year, finishing third in the Grade 2 Hopeful at Saratoga under jockey Ramon Dominguez, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by the victorious Todd Pletcher-trained champion.
"It was the first time Ramon had ridden the horse, and he might not have been as familiar with him as much as we might have liked. Ramon came back and gave us some real input," trainer Kelly Breen said.
"The next time out, Ramon wasn't able to ride us, but he gave us a couple of things we've learned about the horse. We took some of his constructive criticism and it's helped us."
Bern Identity, who had previously captured the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga, followed up his solid Hopeful performance with a sharp three-length victory under Paco Lopez in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs six weeks later.
The Kentucky-bred colt was favored to win the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot in November, only to encounter a tough trip around the six-furlong 'bullring.' Stopped and shuffled back to last, Bern Identity made an impressive six-wide move around the tight final turn and closed to finish second behind Goldencents.
"He got stopped a couple times and was probably last with three-sixteenths of a mile left and still finished second," said Breen, who purchased Bern Identity for the Halls at the 2011 Keeneland September sale for $75,000.
"He's a hearty horse. When he got bumped around during some races, he's always coming at the finish."
Bern Identity received a favorable number 4 post-position draw for the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, which attracted a strong field of 10 three-year-olds.
"I was a little bit shocked that we got as many as we did. I thought it was going to have a field of seven or eight and I didn't think (post position) was going to be that important," Breen said.
"We're not necessarily a horse that needs to be on the lead. He has enough tactical speed to be wherever Paco wants him to be."