If you ask trainer Carl Nafzger, which turf writers have been doing since February, whether it's mandatory to win today's Blue Grass Stakes, he'd tell you he'd like to since he's never won the storied fixture, but not at the expense of the ultimate goal three weeks hence.
In a perfect world and from a performance-figure perspective, a repeat of the last race run by Street Sense would be perfect. And it wouldn't matter if that effort resulted in defeat. The idea is to maintain energy in reserve for the next battle.
Trainer Doug O'Neill might require more from the talented and dangerous Blue Grass second choice, Great Hunter. Like Street Sense, this will be his second and final Derby prep. But it probably would serve O'Neill better if his horse moved forward again, just like he did in his three-year-old debut.
By today's standards, Great Hunter was heavily raced as a juvenile. He's not running for the experience today, like Nobiz Like Shobiz in last week's Wood Memorial. He needs to improve because, thus far, Street Sense has proven the faster, better horse.
Great Hunter needs to make up several lengths on his rival. Since only three weeks remain to the Derby, O'Neill ought to have Great Hunter at near Derby pitch. In this deep three-year-old crop, there's little room for error. This is an interesting tightrope that classics' trainers walk this time of year. It's part of what makes the Triple Crown chase so fascinating.