LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -Bring on Lava Man, Invasor and the rest of the world’s best horses – Bernardini has been waiting for the chance to prove he surely is racing’s undisputed champion.

The $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday will provide the brilliant 3-year-old colt with just that opportunity.

“If he were to win, he would certainly get national attention and be voted Horse of the Year,” trainer Tom Albertrani said Friday morning outside his barn at Churchill Downs. “I definitely think he’ll go down in the history books as one of the all-time greats.

“Let’s hope he has one more good day. Hopefully, he’ll come through one more time.”

The brilliant 3-year colt has rolled to six straight victories by a combined 40 lengths, including the Preakness, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He’s won with such ease, he’s already being compared to some of racing’s greats.

“Those are like Secretariat-type videos when you watch him run, just pulling away from the rest,” Lava Man’s trainer Doug O’Neill said. “Those types of horses come around very rarely.”

Nick Zito has mentioned Bernardini in the same breath with Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid. The Hall of Fame trainer was so impressed after Bernardini’s 6 3/4-length win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he almost started applauding.

But it will be the 1 1/4-mile Classic that defines Bernardini’s career.

The highlight of the eight-race, $20 million Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the Classic field of 13 includes West Coast whiz Lava Man, the nearly perfect Invasor, a pair of Europeans stars in George Washington and David Junior and even 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.

Bernardini has never faced stiffer competition.

“This is going to be the most difficult task for him,” Albertrani said. “But I still believe they are going to have to step up to beat him.”

Bernardini, owned by Dubai crown prince Sheik Mohammed’s Darley Stable, is the even-money favorite, with Invasor at 5-1 and Lava Man at 6-1.

Invasor has won 8-of-9 races, but will be making his first start since winning the Whitney Handicap two months ago. The 4-year-old colt owned by Sheik Mohammed’s brother, Dubai’s minister of finance Sheik Hamdan, missed the Jockey Club Gold Cup after spiking a fever.

“I hope the layoff will be a positive for him,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

There’s also the East Coast vs. West Coast showdown with Lava Man.

The 5-year-old gelding has a seven-race winning streak, including an unprecedented sweep of the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic. However, racing’s richest claiming horse with $3.8 million in earnings hasn’t won outside California.

“He’s showing all the signs of being ready to run a big, big race,” O’Neill said. “He’s a real warrior.”

Bernardini, with Javier Castellano aboard, leaves from the No. 3 post position. Invasor, ridden by Fernando Jara, drew the No. 11 post, and Lava Man and jockey Corey Nakatani will leave from the No. 8 post.

Perfect Drift is back for a record fifth start in the Classic. The 7-year-old gelding is among several long shots who could come on strong at the finish.

“The race is setting up with a lot of speed contenders and a lot of horses used to dominating their races,” Perfect Drift’s trainer Murray Johnson said. “If they all turn it on between the three-eighths and the quarter pole and have to run really hard, it may set it up for somebody coming at the end.”

There are story lines aplenty, and not all of them involve the Classic.

– Todd Pletcher has a record 17 starters in seven races, with high hopes of improving on his 2-for-24 Breeders’ Cup record. The nation’s leading trainer has two morning-line favorites, Circular Quay in the $2 million Juvenile and Fleet Indian in the $2 million Distaff. He also has three other choices in Scat Daddy (Juvenile), Wait a While ($2 million Filly & Mare Turf) and English Channel ($3 million Turf). He also has Flower Alley and Lawyer Ron in the Classic.

– The Maktoum family of Dubai has a strong hand with six horses. Besides Bernardini and Invasor, there’s Sheik Rashid’s $2 million Sprint favorite Henny Hughes and Sheik Mohammed’s Balletto in the Distaff and Echo of Light and Librettist in the $2 million Mile.

– Europe will be well represented, too. Ouija Board (England) is the favorite to win her second Filly & Mare Turf and Hurricane Run (Ireland) is the top choice in the Turf. Irishman Aidan O’Brien, who trains for the powerful Coolmore operation, sends out George Washington in the Classic, Ad Valorem and Aussie Rules in the Mile and Scorpion in the Turf.

Weather should not be a factor with a forecast calling for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50s.

The 23rd Breeders’ Cup will be televised by ESPN for the first time after a 22-year run on NBC. Post time for the first Breeders’ Cup race – the $2 million Juvenile Fillies – is 12:30 p.m. The Classic is scheduled to go off at 5:20 p.m.

AP-ES-11-03-06 1419EST

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