Street Sense - Triple Crown Contender?
by Trevor Whenham - 05/09/2007
Can Street Sense win the Preakness? That's a question that will haunt me for the next week and a half. I'm so desperate for a Triple Crown winner that I'd sell my soul, and I wouldn't even demand a really steep price. Street Sense certainly has the look of a champion, but so did Silver Charm. And Real Quiet. And Charismatic. And War Emblem, Smarty Jones and Funny Cide, too. All those horses did is break my heart. I want to believe that it will be different this year. But will it? Does he have what it takes to get out of Baltimore with a victory and head to New York for a date with destiny? Here's a look:
Pro: Street Sense was clearly the best horse in the Derby field. His move from back to front was monstrous, and it left no doubt about whether he deserved the win. He faced a field full of the very top three year olds in the country, and he put them all in their places. It didn't even seem that hard for him. If he could manage that in the imperfect conditions presented by the Derby, then his class should also be enough to carry him in the somewhat friendlier Preakness environment.
Con: The Preakness isn't at Churchill Downs. The career of Street Sense has been several solid races and two absolutely epic performances - the Derby and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. It's to his credit that he has been at his best when the stakes are the highest, but you can't help but note that those two races were both at Churchill. In both cases he found miraculous room on the rail and he absolutely exploded to the front. He hasn't done that to the same jaw dropping extent anywhere else, so the possibility exists that he is a horse for a course.
Pro: Smaller field will be easier to navigate. The fact that Street Sense was able to move up like he did still doesn't seem real. It was a miracle, and you can't count on that happening again. The Preakness, though, will have a smaller field, which means he likely won't be as far back to begin with, and there won't be as many horses to get past.
Con: More room for competitors, too. Curlin was clearly only the third best horse in the Derby field. I'm not looking for excuses, but he did get forced in and back at the start, and he didn't look comfortable with it. He still made an impressive five wide move at the end, but the early setback was too much for him to overcome. If he is given more room and a better post position, and he is able to settle down and feel comfortable early on, then you have to believe that he will be a different horse than we saw in the Derby. Hard Spun will be back, too. He made an incredible run, and would have held off the field easily if it weren't for Street Sense. The Preakness is shorter than the Derby, so he won't have to hold competitors off as long, and he can spend more energy sooner.
Con: Fresh horses. It almost seems unfair that horses can come into the Preakness off of extended rest when the Derby horses have to make perhaps the most challenging turnaround that American thoroughbreds are subjected to. You only have to look as far back as last year, in Bernardini, to see a talented and well-rested horse come in and beat the returnees.
Pro: These fresh horses are no Bernardini. There are several decent horses, but none that should be able to run anywhere near Street Sense's shadow if he has his best day. King of the Roxy wasn't good enough to make it into trainer Todd Pletcher's Derby five, and having Pletcher as a trainer in the Triple Crown doesn't look like a good thing these days. Grizzled vets D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito are in the mix here, but their horses are far from the caliber of their past greats, or they would have been in the Derby. Chelokee is likely, but he is known for sharing Barbaro's connections, not his talent. The two biggest threats Street Sense has to face in the Preakness are the two horses that followed him across the finish line in Kentucky.
Pro: He came out of the Derby sound, healthy and happy. Carl Nafzger has always done things a little differently, so it was only mildly surprising to see the trainer send his horse out for a mile jog the day after the Derby. If he was up for that then he was clearly feeling good. He lost very little weight during the race, he was eating well afterwards and his attitude seems unchanged. He was obviously at the top of his game last weekend, and there is no evidence to make us think that he has fallen from that lofty perch since. On top of that, the decision to only run him in two prep races this year means that he is as well rested as any horse on the trail.
Con: Nafzger's history. The trainer has only had one Derby winner - the great Unbridled in 1990. Street Sense fans will hope that history doesn't repeat itself. Unbridled beat Summer Squall in one of the most emotional and memorable Derby's in history. Two weeks later the tables turned, with Summer Squall winning, and Unbridled backers left to cash place tickets.