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May 18, 2007

Can Street Sense pass the Preakness test?

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A year ago this time, the whole world was watching the Kentucky Derby winner first jump through the gate prior to the race, and then to everyone’s astonishment, pull up lame as the field was passing the grandstand the first time.

Barbaro was the horse most likely to break the Triple Crown hex that has befallen the likes of Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones over the course of the last decade. The wait has grown to 29 years, the longest it’s been since Sir Barton won the first Triple Crown way back in 1919. Affirmed, trained by the late Laz Barrera, was the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1978.

Many folks feel the torch has been passed from Barbaro to Street Sense and are predicting the Carl Nafzger-trained colt to be the next Triple Crown winner even before the Preakness. Street Sense does have the ability to win this Saturday and beyond, and with his running style and breeding, the Belmont Stakes could be nothing more than the coronation of a champion.

However, the racing world is one race premature in projecting greatness, since the Preakness is just the middle jewel in racing’s most glorified accomplishment and even if he does win the Triple Crown, is he worthy of being included in the same sentence with Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Secretariat and Citation?

A cynic may say Street Sense cannot be placed in that category, especially since he’s done so little, with just four wins in eight lifetime starts. In addition, his two best races have come at his home track (Churchill Downs) and he benefited by three brilliant rail trips in his last three victories.

Those believing in Street Sense point out that two of his losses have come over the Polytrack surface, and his Arlington Washington Futurity defeat back in September was over a sloppy track. Remove those three races and he’s won four of five starts, with breathtaking performances in two of the biggest races in America: the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Whichever side one takes, the bottom line is this: Street Sense must face eight other three-year-olds this Saturday at Pimlico, and if he succeeds, it’s on to New York with two-thirds of the Triple Crown under his belt.

Time to run down the field in post-position order:

1) Mint Slewlep: The only good thing about this horse is his name. By Slew City Slew, Mint Slewlep missed the Mint Juleps in Kentucky and will now try for the Black-Eyed Susan, the traditional drink of the Preakness. He broke his maiden in his fourth start and then got crushed by Cowtown Cat in the Gotham. Mint Slewlep was a non-factor in his last race, a fourth place finish in the Withers. The rank outsider.

2) Xchanger: He’s hit the board in five of eight races. Nevertheless, his off- the-board finishes have come in his only races against decent company. He ran sixth in the Champagne against the likes of Scat Daddy and Nobiz Like Shobiz and opened the 2007 season with a fifth-place showing to Teuflesberg, who ran a dismal 17th in the Derby. Curlin also defeated Xchanger by 12½ lengths in the Rebel proving that this cold spits the bits against better horses. He’ll be a pace factor for the first six furlongs and then tire badly.

3) Circular Quay: Not originally scheduled to run, trainer Todd Pletcher decided earlier in the week to send the Louisiana Derby winner to Baltimore after looking closely at the lack of quality in this field. Smart move by the top trainer in America. Circular Quay had zero chance to win the Kentucky Derby from post 16, especially off an eight-week layoff. He also got caught with an extremely wide trip in the Derby, running on the worst part of the track for most of the race. He’s been training very well and should benefit the most from his race in Kentucky. The only way the "Quay" doesn’t fire his best shot is if he fails to handle the track if the predicted poor weather becomes a factor.

4) Curlin: The Derby morning-line favorite finished a well-beaten third in his fourth lifetime start. There’s a reason horses do not win on the "First Saturday in May" without a proper foundation and Curlin proved it once again. Will his effort two weeks ago propel him to greater heights this time around? It could, but the odds are stacked against it. After not racing until February of his three-year-old campaign, this will now be Curlin’s fourth start in 63 days. Look for the chestnut colt to show more speed this time out, but fall short when it counts the most.

5) King of the Roxy: Todd Pletcher’s other entry could now be used as Circular Quay’s rabbit, helping to ensure a faster pace. The second-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby has a decent turn of foot, but his best race actually came from off the pace when he was left at the gate in the Hutcheson Stakes. King of the Roxy was beaten 38½ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and would have to run the race of his life to get the job done here.

6) Flying First Class: This D. Wayne Lukas colt will set the pace as he knows no other way of racing. He hooked up on the front end with Xchanger in the Rebel but tired to eighth place. Then came a decent effort in the Arkansas Derby where he was squeezed at the start, but still fired his best shot until the final eighth of a mile. Lukas sent him to Churchill Downs for the Derby Trial and Flying First Class was all "class" as he stormed to the top in blazing fractions of 22 and 44 flat and still had enough to win by 3 3/4 lengths. If there’s one longshot to keep in mind for the superfecta, it’s this improving three-year-old colt.

7) Hard Spun: If Street Sense benefited from the inside track bias on Derby Day, then so did the son of Danzig. His 57 3/5 five-furlong work five days before the Derby was a premature sign he would be on the engine at Churchill Downs, but was his inside speed trip the only reason he was able to finish second, almost six lengths in front of the third-place finisher? Hard Spun does have a slight advantage over Street Sense this time around, as Mario Pino is the all-time winningest rider in the state of Maryland. Nevertheless, it’s highly unlikely he will get the same easy lead he got in the Derby with Xchanger, Flying First Class and King of the Roxy all capable of being on or near the lead. On the flip side, Hard Spun does move up on an off-track and the forecast does call for run over the weekend.

8) Street Sense: The deserving favorite after his breathtaking Kentucky Derby. He didn’t win by the same amount of lengths Barbaro did, but his powerful, effortless motion more than made up the difference. However, Street Sense did get a trouble-free ride from Calvin Borel on a golden rail that was clearly the best part of the track, and this will be just his second venture away from his Midwestern home. After getting 9-2 odds in the Derby, taking even money is not the smartest wager to make, but he should be used in any and all exotic wagers.

9) C P West: Nick Zito is back in the Triple Crown picture with this lightly raced colt out of Came Home. He finished second behind King of the Roxy in the Futurity at Belmont Park in just his second start, but has not progressed as fast as Zito would have hoped. He ended up sixth, beaten by 22 lengths in the Juvenile and was subsequently rested for almost five months. Frosty Secret got the best of him in his three-year-old debut and then had a perfect trip in the Withers at Aqueduct, but showed nothing down the stretch while bearing out under heavy urging. Pass

HOW THE RACE WILL UNFOLD

Look for Flying First Class to set the pace with Xchanger right behind him. Don’t be surprised if Mario Pino takes back on Hard Spun and sits a length or two behind the hot pace. King of the Roxy is fourth in the early going, while Curlin is content in the fifth spot, but much closer to the pace then he was in Kentucky. C P West and Mint Slewlep are next in line, followed by the two closers, Street Sense and Circular Quay.

As the field begins to bunch around the far turn, Hard Spun takes command followed by Flying First Class and Curlin. The latter then makes his move past a tired Flying First Class, while setting his sights on Hard Spun. At this time, Street Sense and Circular Quay begin to mount their charge from the back of the pack and close to within three lengths of the leaders.

Hard Spun puts away Curlin’s bid and looks to be home free at the top of the stretch. However, Street Sense and Circular Quay are gathering steam and have their sites set on the Derby second-place finisher. They finally pass Hard Spun at the eighth pole, and duke it out for the final furlong. Circular Quay then takes command inside the final sixteenth and hits the wire one-length in front of Street Sense, putting an end to another possible Triple Crown champion.



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