Preakness awaits Street Sense in pursuit of history

May 8, 2007 1:19 AM

Now that Street Sense has demolished the so-called Breeders’ Cup Juvenile jinx, his

immediate challenge is to become the first Triple Crown winner in 29 years.

Affirmed was the last to win the elusive Triple, comprised of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, in 1978.

Since Street Sense overpowered 19 hapless rivals in the Derby, winning by 21/4 lengths in what was strictly a two-horse race, the immediate question to be answered is whether he can again vanquish speedsters Hard Spun and Curlin, second and third in the Derby, plus new shooters Chelokee and King of the Roxy, in the Preakness, which at 13/16 miles, is a 16th of a mile shorter than the Derby. The Preakness will be run on May 19 at compact Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Beyond that lies the daunting mile and a half of the Belmont on June 9, but that distance should ideally suit Street Sense. If he wins the Preakness, he would be 1-9 in the Belmont to indelibly stamp himself in racing history.

In winning the 133rd Run for the Roses, Street Sense became the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner since the program’s inception in 1984 to capture the Derby, and he did it with style, sweeping from 22 lengths behind in 19th place at the half-mile marker under a typical ground-saving ride by 40-year-old blue collar jockey Calvin Borel (pronounced Bor-EL, but he’s called Bor-RAIL, for his propensity to hug the fence). Street Sense moved into third near the quarter pole, then wore down the pace-setting Hard Spun to win with authority.

As the longest-priced winning post time favorite in Derby history, Street Sense paid a generous $11.80 and was the highest-priced favorite since Harlan’s Holiday, who finished seventh at 6-1 in 2002 behind War Emblem.

Usually, overhead shots provided by TV networks are self-serving and indecisive, but NBC captured the devastating move by Street Sense with microscopic clarity, revealing that the dark bay or brown colt owned and bred by 83-year-old retired businessman James Tafel and trained by 65-year-old Carl Nafzger didn’t have a straw in his path on the entire run.

Can this son of Street Cry win the elusive Triple, which has been taken by only 11 horses in history?

"He ran a tremendous race and won the Derby pretty easily," said Hollywood Park racing secretary Martin Panza. "Looking at things right after the race, you’d have to say he’s got a shot. It doesn’t look like he has any distance limitations. Hard Spun ran a good race and everyone else was far back, so it was a pretty impressive win."

Offered Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who won the Derby with Alysheba in 1987: "I think he’s got a chance unless some fresh horse comes along in the Preakness that can make those short turns. Street Sense can be placed wherever you want him, but Hard Spun should be tough in the Preakness."

Jeff Mullins, one of Southern California’s leading trainers, was ambivalent about the battle-tested Street Sense.

"I don’t know about the Triple Crown," Mullins said, "but I really liked him in the Derby, because he’s been bounced around in his previous races and taken his knocks. He’s a tough horse and I’ve always liked him, but the Preakness is tough. It’s going to be hard for him to be a Triple Crown winner."

Critics would say Street Sense must prove himself on a track other than Churchill Downs, where he won the Juvenile and the Derby by a combined margin of more than 12 lengths. As for me, I’ll continue to believe what I see.

But win or lose, one thing’s for sure: you’ll never get 9/2 on Street Sense again.

The homestretch

”¡ Apologies to any confusion I caused my readers last week when I advised them to play a $1 trifecta box with six horses in the Derby for $36. The cost was $120. I used the Pythagorean Theorem on my abacus instead of consulting with my accountant. While the play went down in flames at any price (runner-up Hard Spun and fourth-place finisher Imawildandcrazyguy were not included), I did unequivocally pick Street Sense as the winner, quoting from last week’s column: "But the best horse is Street Sense. He has the style, the tenacity and the trainer who knows his way to the Derby winners’ circle in Carl Nafzger. Street Sense just needs the trip." And he got it.

”¡ Believe it or not, Southern California stewards have not spoken with Patrick Valenzuela since he was injured at Hollywood Park last Nov. 26, although the 44-year-old rider who has been plagued with substance abuse problems throughout his career has been in touch with the Winners Foundation, which aids track personnel afflicted with such ills. The stewards have talked with Valenzuela’s agent, Jim Pegram, however.

”¡ If hotshot apprentice Joe Talamo expects to win Hollywood Park’s riding title, he’d better mind his manners on the track. The 17-year-old Eddie Delahoussaye sound-alike was hit with two three-day suspensions for careless riding the first week of the meet.

”¡ The Phillies’ Ryan Howard was hitless in eight at bats in the first three games against the Giants last week, striking out five times. It got so bad the first baseman, who was hitting a feeble .198 at press time, finally was benched, meaning he went from MVP to DNP.

”¡ I see where Golden State became only the third No. 8 seed in NBA history to knock off a No. 1 seed in Dallas, whose MVP candidate scored only eight points on two for 13 shooting in a 111-86 elimination blowout. Just call him Dirk No-Show-witzki.