Thursday, May 17, 2007

Street Sense Will Pass His Toughest Test

Saratoga Springs, NY, May 17, 2007 -- Compared to the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness is perceived by many as just a horse race. But for Derby winning Street Sense, it certainly is a lot more. Its the next stop on the road to racing immortality.

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, Saturdays 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.
A look at the Preakness 132 participants, listed in alphabetical order, with post position and early line odds in parentheses:

Circular Quay #3 (8-1): Perhaps lifting a page from Carl Nafzgers 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 Shobizs 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 doesnt 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 thats 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 Saturdays smaller field, the Preakness will be his third race in 35 days and fifth in 97, all without benefit of a juvenile foundation. Thats 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 Spuns 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, hes 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. Todays 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 punchers 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 doesnt figure to grab the lead against Saturdays 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

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

It All Made Perfect Sense In Throwback Derby

Saratoga Springs, NY, May 10, 2007--Theres something about the Kentucky Derby that makes the heart sing, that rises above the din of NBA and NHL playoffs, a near perfect game by a New York Yankees pitcher and, yes, even red carpet b-list celebrities.

There are several obvious things about this event; the atmosphere, among the most electric in sports; the site, even beneath the famed but now dwarfed twin spires, and the crowd, 150,000-strong that is as much a cross-section of America as any event, anywhere. Yet somehow the race itself transcends all.

Thats what happens when three of the first four finishers come from 17th, 19th and 20th and the winner, at Churchill Downs anyway, proves clearly the best of his generation because of his
electric turn of foot, a trainer who brings out his best while not reaching bottom, and a race-rider who believes his horse can do anything.
With the lengthening of teeth comes the realization that this was a Derby to savor. Surely, new traditions will come so that todays cutting-edge becomes tomorrows standard. But this was the Throwback Derby: Work strongly over the track Derby week and run well on Saturday. Work fast, and run one-two.

Street Sense, a throwback racehorse, one that never runs a bad race, that comes from behind no matter what and let the pace be damned. No comparisons quite yet, but when he starts to crank that kick he comes on like Kelso and comes on like Forego and comes on like John Henry. He just doesnt stop coming.

Trainer Carl Nafzger, who makes a plan then lets the horse tell him. And, as told by Steve Haskin of Blood Horse, who takes the time to call his mentor, John Nerud, and thanks him for it all, for teaching him how to train a racehorse and about pedigree, where it all begins.

And then he tells Nerud how hes now going to meet the press now and tell them how smart he is. So in tune with reality, he wouldnt even commit to the second leg of a storied Crown until late the next morning, when the horse would let him know.

With deference to the leaping Avelino Gomez and Angel Cordero and Frankie Dettori, Calvin Borel has now set the bar for post-race exuberance so high that it might never be reached again. Jockeys have made my cry often in my career but never while watching them celebrate a victory.

He made you feel the spirit of Daddy Borel, and his brothers nurturing love and the love of every manner of racetracker that happened cross his path as he and Street Sense worked their way back to the winners circle, a trip seemingly as long as the one that carried him from the bayou to the bluegrass. Like some equine Bukowski, it was high fives for all his friends.

Derby 132 produced a star that sadly turned into a comet. Hopefully the star of Derby 133 will be a pensioner when Derby 153 is renewed on the first Saturday of May, 2027. Until then theres a lot more in store for Street Sense on the racetrack, a colt that felt so good the morning after the Derby that his trainer didnt shed-walk him but sent him out to jog instead.

The bad news for the division and good news for Triple Crown fans is that Street Sense appears to be getting better, stronger. In a television interview on the Capital OTB Television Network, Borel promised after the Blue Grass that Street Sense would be 20 lengths better in the Derby. When given a chance to recant, he refused.

According to Equiform performance figures, the improvement from the Blue Grass to the Derby was 14.84 lengths, 1 Equiform point equaling 2.375 lengths when comparing 9-furlong races to 10. So Borel was close enough. The final figure also represented a lifetime best effort.

In Preakness terms, the negative for Street Sense is that it will not be run at Churchill Downs. The colt has won elsewhere but his best races, by far, have come at Churchill Downs. And his trips had nothing to do with it.

Horses are given credit for speed, which is immeasurable, and heart, or courage under pressure, which is not. But good horses are never given credit for making their own luck, especially when partnered by a terrific race-rider. All race-riders are jockeys; not all jockeys are race-riders.

While Street Sense was clearly the best of them, the Derby had three winners, including runnerup Hard Spun and show finisher Curlin. Hard Spun also produced a career best figure in the Derby. What made the effort extraordinary was the enervating pace he set. But he didnt tire. He kept is energy up from gate to wire. He simply was outrun by the winner in the final furlong.

Curlin visually impressed more in defeat than he did while winning the Arkansas Derby. Given the Derbys level of competition, added distance, unfamiliarity with the surface and a shuffled-back trip, Curlin did extremely well to finish third, earning a figure only a tad slower than his fast Oaklawn Park romp.

So imagine that. A Derby with three winners and easy-to-cheer-for connections. Theyve run this race 133 times and it never gets old, sometimes only better.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kentucky Derby 133: Great American Spectacle; Great Betting Race

Saratoga Springs, NY, May 3, 2007--Even if it werent Americas Race, this is one Kentucky Derby not to miss. Not in two decades has this storied mile and-a-quarter come replete with this kind of talent. And its deep, too.

One would have to time-travel back to 1987, a Derby starting gate that included Alysheba, Gulch, Cryptoclearance and Bet Twice to find one comparable. Throw in Capote, a breeding-shed star, and you have an idea of how good this class could be. For starters, all the money finishers from the 2006 Breeders Cup Juvenile are having back at it, over the same racetrack.

Street Sense, Curlin, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Hard Spun and two from the Todd Pletcher quintet, Circular Quay and Scat Daddy, could easily match the talented class of 87. And, so, with great anticipation, an examination of the field for Derby 133, in alphabetical order, with post position and early-line odds in parentheses:

#18 Any Given Saturday (12-1): He has a million-dollar pedigree, literally, and has been the consensus training star among the Todd Squad runners. Pletchers audible, to run in the Wood Memorial instead of the Blue Grass, is paying dividends now. He finished like a tired colt in the Wood following his Tampa Derby exertions but now has a high energy level according to his trainer, the three-time defending Eclipse champion. Garrett Gomez, arguably this countrys best race-rider and certain future Hall of Famer, gets aboard for the first time. A worthy contender but the draw hurts.

#11 Bwana Bull (50-1): Took a most unusual route to the Big Dance. He was scratched from the Derby Trial Stakes on Saturday due to lingering effects of antibiotics to treat an infection and winds up in the big one. From the prolific shed of Northern California ace Jerry Hollendorfer, he was fifth in Tiagos Santa Anita Derby following a G3 win in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Historically, thats been a good Preakness prep. So whats he doing here?

#16 Circular Quay (8-1): The knocks are well documented; no race in eight weeks and no race beyond a mile and-a-sixteenth. But note his qualities; His only defeat in three starts over the Churchill surface came courtesy of a track-biased placing to Street Sense in the Juvenile. He finishes explosively and did win the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga off an eight-week layup last year. He is the colt first-call rider John Velazquez and agent Angel Cordero Jr. chose to partner. Along with Curlin, he may be the fields best athlete despite his dawdling in the early stages of a race. A serious contender.

# 6 Cowtown Cat (20-1): The now colt of the Pletcher quints, he really blossomed in the Illinois Derby. Yes, he set a moderate early pace but exploded into a good final time, winning in full stride as if todays added ground is what he wants badly. Versatile, he has proven hes not a need-the-lead type. Hes worked brilliantly since the Hawthorne race and has a young rider that has stepped up his game to meet the biggest challenges. Name the last 19-year-old not named Fernando Jara to win the Belmont Stakes, Breeders Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup within a 10-month span? Live longshot.

#2 Curlin (7-2): Simply no telling how good this colt is. Undefeated in three lifetime starts, his winning margins total 28- lengths and he does it with brilliant dominant speed, winning with some reserves in the equine tank. His gifts are his carriage and gait, a running style with no wasted motion and owning extreme push-button acceleration. His lack of racing foundation at 2 and a three-race campaign work against him in this extremely enervating test. He might be a great one. He would have to be to defeat this group given those qualifiers. Obvious contender, nonetheless.

#19 Dominican (20-1): Much has been made of the fact hes undefeated on artificial surfaces and winless on traditional dirt. These are valid issues but he just might be developing at the right time, too. Three-year-olds in the spring grow from young boys into precocious older teenagers. He owns pedigree for the distance and is undefeated beneath the talented Rafael Bejarano. Grade 1 Blue Grass winner very likely to run his race, but a minor award remains the most optimistic call.

#20 Great Hunter (15-1): Showed much promise as a juvenile winning the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland but should have finished second in Street Senses Juvenile despite some first-turn troubles. Given a two-prep campaign by trainer Doug ONeill, he was disappointingly flat in the Blue Gras before the stretch incident eliminated any chance he had to win. Comes into the Derby not as advanced as required for such a demanding test but has pedigree and body type for this arduous trip. On his very best, a money finish only from extreme outside.

#8 Hard Spun (15-1): Could be the value of Derby 133. If not for a flat effort in the Southwest Stakes over an Oaklawn Park surface that broke away under foot, he could be undefeated in six career starts. He has the same running style and gifted speed as Curlin and will be almost three times the price. He worked brilliantly at Churchill Downs following a previous one-mile workout designed to get him tired and attain the proper level of fitness. His talented trainer flies a bit under the radar and is bred, as racetrackers say, to run up the side of a mountain. His :57 3/5 work was the fastest Derby week work in 34 years, since Forego in 1973. A tricky read, but a serious racehorse.

#5 Imawildandcrazyguy (50-1): In recent starts hes finished close to Scat Daddy, Circular Quay and Notional without threatening. To repeat, hes finished close. without threatening.

#9 Liquidity (30-1): Hopes were high for ONeill trainee after two consecutive runner-up efforts behind G1 winning Stormello and very highly regarded Ravel in the G3 Sham Stakes. He can be forgiven for fading after chasing the pace in Circular Quays Arkansas Derby but not for his disappointing try as one of the Santa Anita Derby choices. Stalking style places him between rocks and hard places in this match-up. Note that recent equipment changes have helped to advance his training.

#12 Nobiz Like Shobiz (8-1): Talented colt has been somewhat victimized by his own early success. He made such a favorable impression at 2 that he was atop most everyones early Derby list, mine included. But he hasnt developed much in terms of performance figures. The blinkers and cotton in his ears to muffle distractions did their job and he won the Wood Memorial. His Equiform figures did move forward in the Wood, portending another developmental move here. But was it and is it enough? With a high cruising speed, a strong Derby pace would help his focus and serve to make him more comfortable during the running. But will he revert to his drifting ways when confronted by the Derbys wall of noise at headstretch? Still, a serious contender. Nicely drawn.

#13 Sam P. (20-1): Was out of his element finding himself on the lead in the Santa Anita Derby, not his preferred style, following a good-rally placing to Great Hunter in the Robert B. Lewis Memorial. He has an affinity for Churchill, having won there at 2, and retains the great Ramon Dominguez. Even with improvement, however, he remains a cut below top class.

#14 Scat Daddy (10-1): The most accomplished of the Pletcher runners, he is the fields lone two-time Grade 1 winner. He had a great winter at Gulfstream Park, winning the Florida Derby, the race that launched Barbaro last year. His speed figures at not in the upper ranges here but all he does is win. In the Florida Derby, a review of the tape will show the very useful Notional made a strong, well-timed rally but that Scat Daddy remained in full stride right to the line and could have gone around again if needed. Showing a brilliant recent workout, he retains Edgar Prado, Barbaros partner. Karma, anyone? Yet another worthy contender despite training in a bar shoe. Perfect post.

#1 Sedgefield (50-1): Second to Hard Spun in the well-graded Lanes End, he must demonstrate hes more than a Polytrack/Turf specialist. Say this about Turfways Polytrack surface: it plays a lot more honestly than Keenelands. Might be better than generally rated and potentially offers much more value that Blue Grass winning mate but, still, a very tall order.

#4 Storm In May (30-1): Has shown nothing to indicate he wants to go 10 furlongs on dirt at this level. Should sit this dance out.

#17 Stormello (30-1): The quality speed of the Derby 133 speed. Winner of the Grade 2 Norfolk in his two-turn debut at Oak Tree-Santa Anita, he concluded his juvenile campaign with a Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity score. He ran Scat Daddy to a nose in the Fountain of Youth, his three-year-old debut, but did not have the same energy when he crossed the country a second time. Fresh now, hes working great and is very fast. All he lacks is a true distance pedigree. He should run very well for as long as he can, especially if left alone on the lead. Thats a big if, the draw hurt.

#7 Street Sense (4-1): The two year-old champion and Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger need no introduction. He will have only two preps prior to the biggest race of his life, but what preps they were. He gave fast and fitter Any Given Saturday all he wanted in the Tampa Bay Derby before coming back to lose by a nose when Polytracked in the Blue Grass. We believe those two efforts and two excellent workouts will be enough to achieve the proper level of fitness to win Derby 133. No Derby colt loves the Churchill surface more than this one. And he has a better turn of foot and more athleticism than many observers think. Beat the fastest horse and you wear the roses.

#10 Teuflesberg (30-1): The Iron Horse of Derby 133, he is the first horse in 33 years to be heavily raced at 2 and still make it into the Derby starting gate. Part owner/trainer Jamie Sanders was Nick Zitos former top exercise rider so shes been around good horses and this scene for over a decade. Teuflesberg is a speed horse, and that doesnt augur well given the presence of Stormello, not to mention the heavy heads of this group.

#15 Tiago (15-1): Fairytales can come true, it can happen to you, if you bet this long-winded late developer. We dont believe this years Santa Anita Derby was anywhere near its best renewal but well give props to the colt that can finish in front for the first time in its career in a Grade 1 event. From the owner, trainer and jockey that gave the world Giacomo, a Tiago win would be even more stunning considering the class of this crop. Equipment changes have helped and he has worked strongly since the SA Derby. But how many times can lightning strike? I expect that hell run well, just not well enough.

#3 Zanjero (30-1): Might be the most disrespected colt in the field. In his last four starts, he was beaten a total of 14 lengths over 34 furlongs by the likes of Nobiz Like Shobiz, Notional, Circular Quay and Dominican. Finished third by a head in the Blue Grass, the good news and bad news being that he saved all the ground at outside-favoring Keeneland. He can stalk from close range or come from the clouds only he hasnt done it fast enough. On his very best, a punchers chance to complete the superfecta.

Most Probable Winner: Street Sense (fair odds 7-2).

Derby Dark Horse: Circular Quay (fair odds 10-1).

Best Value: Hard Spun (12-1 or greater).

Written by John Pricci

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