Second jewel in sight for Street Sense

Updated: May 11, 2007, 1:46 PM ET
By Jason Shandler | Special to

Coming into the 133rd Kentucky Derby, the questions surrounding Street Sense were many.

Could he become just the second horse in 60 years to win the Derby after being raced only twice as a 3-year old? Would the son of Street Cry become the first horse since Spectacular Bid in 1979 to capture the roses after winning the 2-year old championship? And perhaps the most speculative question in everyone's mind: could he break the 0-for-23 jinx of Breeders' Cup Juvenile champions on the first Saturday in May?

Horsephotos.comCurlin, third in the May 5 Kentucky Derby, also worked Wednesday toward the May 19 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
Well, Street Sense answered all the questions with a resounding, "Yes." The 2 1/4-length, rail-skimming victory was one of the most impressive Kentucky Derby victories in recent memory, as under the hold of jockey Calvin Borel, he lingered near the back of the pack for much of the race and then like a rocket, motored past tiring rivals until finally overtaking a game Hard Spun at the top of the stretch.

Trainer Carl Nafzger confirmed that Street Sense will make his bid for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the 1 3/16 miles Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 19.

To the surprise of many, Nafzger had his Derby champ jog a mile around Churchill Downs the day after the big race, verifying that the talented dark bay colt came out of the grueling 1 1/4 miles in fine shape.

"I realized that I had focused so hard on the Derby that I hadn't looked past it," said Nafzger on Sunday. "It doesn't matter, because the horse will tell you, the horse will take you to the Preakness. The way he looked (Sunday) morning, we're on the way."

Nafzger said Street Sense would continue his training at Churchill and will be shipped to Baltimore a few days before the Preakness. There he will face at least eight rivals, including Derby runner-up Hard Spun, third-place finisher Curlin and the Michael Matz-trained Chelokee. If Street Sense goes on to capture the Preakness, and then the Belmont Stakes on June 9, he will become the first Triple Crown winner in 29 years -- Affirmed last did it in 1978. The nearly three-decade wait for another Triple Crown winner has racing fans pining for the sport's next hero. Since 1979, 10 horses have gone to the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown. Of those 10, six have come in the last decade, beginning with Bob Baffert's Silver Charm in 1997, who finished a disappointing second to Touch Gold. The following year Baffert was denied again, this time in heartbreaking fashion, as Real Quiet lost by a nose to Victory Gallop in New York.

Most recently, it was Smarty Jones who nearly broke the Triple Crown drought. One of the most popular horses in racing history, the Pennsylvania-bred had Belmont and Triple Crown victory in his grasp for trainer John Servis, only to watch Birdstone rally in the final strides to deny the ultimate prize. In a time when horse racing could have used all the positive notoriety it could get, it was a crushing blow to fans all around the country.

"The most disappointing thing is that the best horse lost," said Servis. "You hate for that to happen when a horse is sitting on a possible Triple Crown, but that's just how things go. In our case, I don't think it was the jockey's fault (Stewart Elliot) or anything the horse did wrong, it was a different combination of factors."

Some now believe that Street Sense has the bloodlines and racing style to finally break the Triple Crown jinx. If anyone knows what it will take, it is the savvy Nafzger, who first won the Kentucky Derby back in 1990 with Unbridled. With an unorthodox training style and 40 years of experience in the sport, the 65-year old Texan says it will eventually be done again. But he knows it won't be easy.

"The thing that makes it so difficult is that you have so many new horses coming at you," Nafzger said, "and most of them are fresh. No. 2, the distance changes in each race, which throws things off. The third factor is that the horse has to do it on three different surfaces and he may not like one of them. Finally, the age of airplanes makes it tough. You have horses that can fly overnight to be somewhere without a lot of travel time. Horses can come at you from all over the world, which wasn't possible when I first started."

Servis expounded on Nafzger's point about fresh horses.

"Nowadays, so many horses skip the Derby and Preakness just so they can gun for the Belmont," Sevis said. "It used to be that you would only have five or six horses in the Belmont, but today, if you have a horse that is lucky enough to win the Derby and Preakness, you have a major bull's eye on your back. So if a jockey rides an unethical race, it's okay. The only concern that they have going in is, how can I beat this horse? They pull out all the stops to beat your horse."

For Street Sense, who has already broken one 23-year old jinx and quieted doubters along the way, one more question must be answered. Can he win the Triple Crown? Nafzger wasn't making any guarantees.

"Well, we won't find out until he races," said Nafzger. "Just because he beat a few horses the first time it doesn't mean he'll do it again. If the Dolphins beat the Patriots one week, that doesn't guarantee they'll do it again the next game. Horses are like water, they seek their own level.

"I know this horse is special. He has raced well over four different tracks and the (short) layoff doesn't concern me. We didn't try to do too much with him this year because he didn't need to race a lot.

We'll find out if he can step forward again. If he is good enough, the horse will take us there. People forget that. It's the horse that takes you there."