April 13, 2010

Remembering ... Street Sense

Kentucky Derby Day. There is nothing else quite like it in the world. For a dark bay colt named Street Sense, it was the day of crowning achievement. Sent off as the 9-2 favorite in the field of 20, Street Sense was poised to add his name to a most sacred scroll of victors in American racing. The early stages would have his supporters a little concerned, however. Soon after the start, the son of Street Cry eased to the inside rail and relaxed near the rear of the oversized pack. After the first half mile, Street Sense was in 19th place, more than fifteen lengths off the strong pace set by Hard Spun. The juvenile champion remained patient on the rail with rider Calvin Borel up the backstretch, moving off the rail only briefly to pass Storm in May before resuming a rail riding trip. Street Sense began his amazing rally on the far turn and started passing horses as if they were standing still.

Street Sense and Borel would keep true to the rail and it remained open as if it was ordained from a higher power. He deftly got off the rail to go around Sedgefield turning for home and now just had the stubborn Hard Spun to deal with. He accelerated on the leader, and the race was his by the eighth pole. Street Sense powered home to an impressive Kentucky Derby win with an overjoyed Borel celebrating before they even hit the wire, waving his right arm and pumping his fist. It was the first Derby win for Borel and owner James Tafel, and the second for trainer Carl Nafzger, but this day was about the horse. Already a champion, Street Sense became the first BC Juvenile winner to win the Derby, and he did it in smashing style.

A smashing win at Churchill Downs was nothing new to Street Sense. He had been solid in all of his first four starts, but with only one win to date, he was not made one of the favorites in the 2006 BC Juvenile. The one win was in an Arlington Park maiden race, and it was the first time I saw him in person. In that race, there were three stakes quality juveniles in the mix. I was thoroughly impressed as Street Sense stalked fast fractions and easily wore down his opposition with a 1 ¼ length score in his second lifetime start. The win over future stakes horses Izzie’s Halo and Piratesonthelake stamped Street Sense as a horse to watch in my mind. The trio was 13 lengths clear of the rest of the field, furthering my belief that this would be a key race. Two third place finishes ensued as Street Sense was beaten in a sloppy edition of the Arlington Washington Futurity and then weakened after making a huge move in his first try around two-turns in the Grade 1 Breeder’s Futurity at Keeneland. They might not have been wins, but they set him up perfectly for a run in the most important race for two-year-olds.

And perfect it was. His Breeders Cup win was a majestic thing of beauty. Street Sense rocketed through on the rail to win the Juvenile by a whopping ten lengths. It is the largest winning margin in the Juvenile's 26 year history and second largest ever in the Breeders' Cup. The other 13 juveniles were left in the dust and Street Sense was an overwhelming winner of an Eclipse Award a few months later.

It was always easy for me to root for Street Sense. He was handled by good people and there was a real sense of consistency to the group. Trainer Carl Nafzger was always one of my favorite trainers, which I am sure is true for a lot of people after Unbridled’s stretch run in the 1990 Kentucky Derby. Nafzger’s number one client has been James Tafel for many years, and their long running relationship has produced many fine runners, but none quite like Street Sense. It was Tafel that bred Street Sense, and in fact it was his idea to breed his Dixieland Band mare Bedazzle to the young sire Street Cry in the first place. Joining the Tafel and Nafzger team was popular rider Calvin Borel, who credits Jim and Gus Tafel, as well as Nafzger, for a lot of the success he has enjoyed. So consistent and loyal is this team, that Borel rode Street Sense in every single one of his thirteen career starts. A stat rarely seen in this day and age, and I for one appreciate this sense of loyalty and teamwork. That consistency proved to be a good thing for their charge.

It bothers me a little when Street Sense is mentioned as strictly a Churchill horse. I saw him run in 1:15 and change for 6 ½ furlongs that day when he broke his maiden in what proved to be a stakes quality field, proving that he could run very fast when needed.  That was just the beginning for Street Sense who would go on to beat the quality runner Any Given Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby, and lose the Blue Grass by a desperate nose on Keeneland’s new Polytrack surface before his Derby win. After the Derby he came within a whisker of winning the Preakness, when he looked like he had the race won before the superstar made one final lunge that nipped him at the wire. Rested for a few months, Street Sense would win the Jim Dandy in easy fashion, before winning for the final time in a hard fought Travers.

As you can see, Street Sense was far more than a one track wonder. His two biggest wins may have come at Churchill, but that is where the biggest races were. He proved to be a star on far more occasions than only those two races. Unfortunately, Street Sense’s only sub-par performance would come in his final race, Curlin’s 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In the end, Street Sense won six of his thirteen starts with four more second place finishes. He brought home a check in every single start to the tune of more than $4.3 million in earnings. He was retired after his three-year-old season after two very successful years on the track and sent to Darley Stud’s Jonabell Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. His first foals are yearlings in 2010. I believe that Street Sense will prove to be an outstanding sire, based on his racing talent, conformation, and breeding. I also believe that Street Sense is not remembered for the outstanding horse that he was because of the result of his final race. Yes, Curlin won easy, and Street Sense labored home a will beaten 4th , (the only time in his career he was out of the money) but remember the track was a sloppy mess that day, and going into that final race he was well respected. Street Sense was the race favorite, while Curlin was the fourth choice. If that race was run on a fast track, who knows how Street Sense would be remembered. I remember you Street Sense.

Photo by Sue Kawczynski


william said...

seems like only yesterday....that breeders cup race was unbelievable seeing him skim along the rail and then draw away, the race was over way earlier then it should have been...thanks for remembering street sense...cant wait for the magazine

tencentcielo said...

Great piece Brian!

The win in the Derby probably was ordained from a higher power, as why else would NBC switch to the overhead view going into the far turn? ;-)

(Just kidding. NBC got lucky that SS through and made that blimp shot worth every penny.)

LDP said...

BC Juvenile, Derby, Travers. He was a great three year old. He, Curlin and HS made 2007 the best year of the decade for three year olds IMO, they showed up each and every time they raced. Had the three been split up into different years, even if one was put against the likes of BB, something tells me they still would've been the more dominant horse. The only thing IMO, that could've made that year better is if Bernardini and Invasor had stayed around, that way the big three could've met them in the BCC. That would be right up there in the top fields ever assembled for the Classic IMO.

Anyhow, I am not so dumb as to think SS was a one track wonder. I do think CD was by far his favorite, but he was consistent every track he ran at. AGS had the ability to be brilliant and he showed that in the TBD, Dwyer, and Haskell. I remember the battle AGS gave SS the day they set the track mark in that race. SS Derby was awesome as was his BCJ. The annoucer didn't even seem to notice him until he was six lenghts in front. He may not have always won, but against the crop of 07', who can blame him. He was a great horse nonetheless.

Ryan said...

That three-year-old crop was dynamite. I can't wait until we have another like it!

belles forever said...

Ryan..maybe we will see that kind of competitive triple crown run this year..that was a year to remember..

Silent Sunday said...

Great piece on a great horse. The trio of SS, Curlin and HS made 2007 a very exciting season of racing as the 3 year olds dominated racing in this year. I wish I knew you were doing a piece on him earlier, I would have sent you a pic I just snapped of him at Darley two weeks ago to past into the end of the story. He still looks great, and he is right next to Hard Spun. They say they race the fence line against each other to this day.....with SS usually winning! :)

railrunner said...

Curlin, Hard Spun, Rags To Riches, Any Given Saturday and Street Sense. It's hard to believe there were so many incredible horses all racing that year. 2007 was the first year I watched the Derby live and the first horse race I ever saw live actually. I loved Street Sense after seeing his Breeders' Cup Juvenile win in early January on youtube but Curlin was my Derby horse.

I still wish they had sent Street Sense to the Belmont after the Preakness, it would have been spectacular to see all three once again racing against each other.

I agree that his 4th place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic unfortunately seems to tarnish his image in many people's minds, but I don't think he cared very much for the sloppy track. Even with that he still beat Lawyer Ron and Any Given Saturday and even if the track had been dry I don't think any horse in that field was going to beat Curlin on that day.

It would have been spectacular to see him run as a four-year-old along with Hard Spun. Thanks for the memories!

railrunner said...

Just remembered that Tiago was also from the dynamite 2007 crop, wow! I've been wondering what's up with him, haven't heard any word recently.

Celeste said...

Great article, Brian!! I'm a little slow in catching up on my reading, but I'm glad you wrote this memory of Street Sense. He was one of my favorites that year and I loved to see him run, but it was such a disappointment when he and Hard Spun were both retired at three. They could have been so exciting and added much to the racing scene as four year olds. Oh well... Again, Brian, thank you!