2007: Street Sense

DATE: Sunday, May 6, 2007
SOURCE: By Maryjean Wall, Herald-Leader Racing Writer
A half-mile into the Kentucky Derby, Street Sense was sucking up the dirt kicked back by 72 horse hoofs flying fast in front of him.
He had one horse beaten. He had the daunting task of passing 18 more to win this 133rd Derby as favorite in the $2.1 million race.But he was also taking the shortest way, the path alongside the rail, which was clear, as if meant to be his. This was the day the sun would shine for Street Sense, just as it had on Churchill Downs yesterday, drying out the track after two days of rain.
When Street Sense finally came off the rail near the quarter pole, burst loose and went after the two horses remaining in front of him, the Derby was as good as won.
“I said, ‘Mr. Tafel, we’re clear, it’s up to him, it’s all his now,’” trainer Carl Nafzger recalled telling the owner of Street Sense, James B. Tafel, of Boynton Beach, Fla.
With jockey Calvin Borel practically leaping for joy in the saddle, Street Sense passed under the wire, the winner by 2 1/4 lengths in front of Hard Spun, who finished 5 3/4 lengths ahead of third-placed Curlin. Street Sense paid a win mutuel of $11.80, the highest ever for a winning favorite.
Borel pumped his right arm, waved his whip and stood high in the saddle. He alternately grinned and cried. As anyone could probably guess, it was the locally based jockey’s first Kentucky Derby win.
“It’s the most greatest moment in my life,” Borel declared in homespun words that might become part of Derby lore. Something like jockey Don Brumfield saying after winning on Kauai King in 1966, “I’m the happiest hardboot hillbilly alive.”
Street Sense was notching a few significant “firsts” himself:
* He became the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to win a Kentucky Derby since the Breeders’ Cup began in 1984. Thus, Street Sense, juvenile champion for last season, broke the Breeders’ Cup/Kentucky Derby jinx.
* Street Sense also became only the third favorite to win the Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979.
* He became the first Derby winner to triumph in front of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, on her first visit to Churchill Downs.
Mostly, to the satisfaction of Nafzger, Street Sense won off only two prep races this year. He lost the latter one, the Blue Grass Stakes, by a nose three weeks ago.
Street Sense is the son of Street Cry out of the Dixieland Band mare Bedazzle and was bred in Kentucky by his owner.
Nafzger had remained steadfast despite public criticism of his unorthodox plan for getting Street Sense to the Derby. Vindication came with victory and the wide margin of more than 2 lengths by which the bay colt won in 2:02.17 on a track labeled “fast.”
Ignoring the morning line that predicted undefeated Curlin would be the favorite, the third-highest Derby crowd ever, of 156,635 made Street Sense a slight favorite. Like Street Sense, Curlin also came to this Derby in an unconventional way: He had never raced at age 2.
Street Sense, however, put on the same kind of show he gave the Breeders’ Cup crowd last fall on the championship day at Churchill Downs. On that occasion, Street Sense came from second-last of 14 starters to draw off and win by a dramatic 10 lengths.
He had lost his Keeneland race before the Breeders’ Cup, just as he lost at Keeneland before winning the Derby.
During the three-week interval from the Blue Grass Stakes to the Derby, Nafzger never seemed to lose confidence in the colt.
So it was that Nafzger could say after the Derby yesterday that he did not worry when Street Sense started out the race with only one horse of 20 starters behind him. Likewise, Borel said he wasn’t concerned.
While Hard Spun made the pace the entire trip until Street Sense passed him near the quarter pole, Street Sense simply tucked over to the rail and stayed there until Borel later swung him out.
Even with those 72 hoofs racing ahead early on, the pace was setting up to the advantage of Street Sense. Hard Spun was going much too fast to survive 1 1/4 miles at the speed he was racing: :22.96 for the first quarter-mile, :46.26 for the half, then 1:11.13 for the 6 furlongs and 1:37.04 for the mile.
At that rate, Hard Spun and his closest pursuers (first Cowtown Cat, then Teuflesberg, then Sedgefield) had to feel the effects of going so fast. Hard Spun actually widened his lead at the mile post. But the race had already set up, with these fast fractions, for a horse coming from off the pace — one not as tired as the leaders.
Curlin was also making his way forward somewhat ahead of Street Sense. So was Imawildandcrazyguy, who began the race last — the one horse Street Sense had behind him in the first quarter-mile.
These closers and others, including Circular Quay, gained ground on the leader in the final furlongs. But Street Sense posed the greatest threat after making his way to third position on the rail. That was the precise second Borel swung Street Sense off the rail.
He passed Sedgefield and Hard Spun. Borel kept riding hard and gave Street Sense no chance to ease up before the wire.
“I looked under my arm and saw I was two or three lengths in front,” Borel said. “It’s the greatest moment in your life when you pass under the the wire in the Kentucky Derby in front.”
Trainer Larry Jones said he could not have been happier with the way Hard Spun ran. He had wanted Hard Spun to be in the lead, he said, but would have liked a half-mile perhaps two seconds slower.
“At the top of the lane, he was running easy,” said Hard Spun’s jockey, Mario Pino. “But the winner came up and passed me.”
Third-placed Curlin, never farther back than fifth in the early furlongs of his previous races, seemed surprised to find himself so far back in the Derby: 13th early on.
“He shuffled back and checked himself a few times,” said his jockey, Robby Albarado. “He’d never had that experience before, to be behind like that. But turning for home he came running.”
Fourth-placed Imawildandcrazyguy, also benefited from the fast early pace, He “just picked up the pieces,” said jockey Mark Guidry.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who started five in this Derby, said he had no major excuses for any of his runners who finished sixth (Circular Quay), eighth (Any Given Saturday), ninth (Sam P.), 18th (Scat Daddy) and 20th (Cowtown Cat).

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