By temperament, talent, training and surface, he had an edge at 10 furlongs two weeks ago. But the dynamics change Saturday in Baltimore. The colt must adapt. And so, too, must Calvin Borel, the X on his back having become much larger, more pronounced.
For Street Sense, Saturday’s classic is more than another horse race alright. Returning in two weeks over a new track after his huge “mile and a quarter without any water,” the Preakness will be the biggest test of his career.
Circular Quay #3 (8-1): Perhaps lifting a page from Carl Nafzger’s book, it appears that Todd Pletcher allowed the colt to dictate his Preakness course. Having no intention of running his Derby horses in the Preakness, Pletcher began having second thoughts last weekend and after a satisfactory Monday workout, the diminutive late runner rejoins the classics’ chase. Circular Quay appeared uncomfortable over the wet-fast Churchill surface and, despite encountering some trouble on the far turn, beat 70 percent of the field, losing by just over nine lengths. The problem is eight of those lengths were made up by Street Sense and Hard Spun. A strong pace and a fast track would help immeasurably. At his best, the only horse capable of out-kicking the favorite late.
C P West #9 (20-1): Suffers from the same affliction that hindered Nobiz Like Shobiz‘s season, perhaps only more so: He has not developed sufficiently as a three year-old. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito would like nothing more than to win another classic, consequently he doesn’t over-race his two-year-olds. But this colt was so advanced that Zito ran him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he was trounced by Street Sense. Pointed toward this in his third start at 3, he was a willing second in the Grade 3 Withers, the same race that produced Preakness winner Bernardini last year. But that’s where the comparison ends.
Curlin #4 (7-2): More impressive in defeat when third in the Kentucky Derby than he ever was winning his first three starts by an aggregate 28-˝ lengths. His connections’ worst fears were realized when an inside post compromised his position, resulting in a less than desirable Derby trip. While he is sure to benefit from the experience gained and Saturday’s smaller field, the Preakness will be his third race in 35 days and fifth in 97, all without benefit of a juvenile foundation. That’s a lot to ask from a new millennium thoroughbred even one as talented as the attractive son of Smart Strike. Will race close to the early pace.
Flying First Class #6 (20-1): Demonstrated he was more than your typical three year with a watch-busting romp in his second lifetime start at Oaklawn Park. Following that sprint victory, he chased Curlin around Oaklawn Park a couple of times in the two-turn Rebel and Arkansas Derby, both graded events, and races to which he was ill suited at the time. Returning to one turn in the Derby Trial, he showed speed throughout the 7-˝-furlong race, taking on all challengers before blowing the race open in midstretch. Now on the come for five-time Preakness-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas, he punched his ticket to Baltimore with a rapid five-furlong breeze in :58 3/5. He is the Preakness pace and holds the key to Hard Spun’s winning prospects.
Hard Spun #7 (5-2): Incredibly, the Kentucky Derby runnerup never has taken a backwards step on performance figures and generally there is no reason to assume a regression in that context now. His Derby effort was first rate, obviously, setting a strong pace and holding extremely well. The presence of Flying First Class could either help or hurt him here, providing a target for Mario Pino to stalk. Should Flying First Class prove more than a sprinter/miler, he could compromise the chances of this talented and well-bred racehorse. Rock, or hard place?
King Of The Roxy #5 (12-1): The only runner in the field that has had the Preakness circled on his dance card for months. Not ready to run in the Derby, he was pointed here by Todd Pletcher soon after finishing second to Tiago in the Santa Anita Derby. Always fast, he showed a distance-racing aptitude at Santa Anita to the surprise of many. While not quite as fast as the upper echelons here, he’s primed for a career best effort. Will it be good enough? Even Team Valor spokesman Barry Irwin admitted his colt could be up against it. Money prospects at best.
Mint Slewlep #1 (30-1): The Preakness usually attracts a hopeless local. Trainer Robert Bailes returns to the Maryland classic with a gun two bullets short of his previous Preakness runnerup, Scrappy T. The colt showed some improved late foot when unplaced in the Withers but remains eligible for secondary-allowance conditions. Way out of his element.
Street Sense #8 (7-5): A most deserving favorite off his Derby tour de force, he never has failed to fire. But the second jewel could be more difficult than the first. Still relatively fresh off a two-prep Derby schedule, this nonetheless will be his third start in five weeks and the Preakness is run at Pimlico, not Churchill. But he has run very well elsewhere and continues to train strongly for Carl Nafzger, working fast but with energy in reserve. Borel has extreme confidence in his colt, a huge plus, and he knows he will get a response anytime he asks the question. Today’s pace scenario coupled with a slightly shorter distance is a dynamic that, with luck, could actually help. The one to beat, again.
Xchanger #2 (15-1): This local has a puncher’s chance. Won the traditional Preakness prep, the Federico Tesio, as easily as horses win races, and he has trained extremely well since over the deeper training track at Fair Hill where Barbaro was prepared. He won the Grade 3 Sapling at 2 from off the pace and will have to take a similar tack here as he doesn’t figure to grab the lead against Saturday’s faster rivals. Ramon Dominguez is a huge plus, and it will be interesting to see who leaves the rail first, Ramon or Calvin? With a perfect trip and luck, the longshot might land a superfecta share.
Most Probable Winner: Street Sense
Best Value: Circular Quay