SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- When Street Sense hit the top of the stretch in the $1 million Travers Stakes, it looked like the race was over.
It was just beginning.
Instead of pulling away from his less-than accomplished rivals, Street Sense found himself hooked up in a stretch-long duel with Grasshopper before prevailing by a half-length on a hot and steamy Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
The Kentucky Derby winner has lost his share of close calls -- the Preakness by a head, the Blue Grass by a nose -- but this time he came through after giving trainer Carl Nafzger a few anxious moments.
"He nearly always will finish when he's hooked up eyeball to eyeball, but when he gets about a length in front he pricks his ears," Nafzger said. "Grasshopper didn't give him a chance to prick his ears today."
Despite the absence of his toughest rivals -- Preakness winner Curlin, Haskell winner Any Given Saturday and Derby runner-up Hard Spun -- Street Sense needed his best effort to beat a horse running in his first stakes race.
"At every point, I thought I beat him until the last stride," Grasshopper jockey Robby Albarado said. "Street Sense obviously is a champion, but this horse is only going to get better."
As the horses crossed the finish line, Borel and Albarado banged fists to congratulate each other. It was Albarado who rode Curlin to victory over Borel and Street Sense in the Preakness.
"They're always hooked up," Nafzger said. "They're really good friends."
Added Neil Howard, who trains Grasshopper: "Street Sense is unbelievable. We were thrilled. It was a great effort. We got beat by an unbelievable horse."
The crowd of 38,909 cheered on Street Sense in the stretch, and cheered even louder when Borel led him into the winner's circle.
"I loved the way the fans loved Street Sense here," Nafzger said. "Thank you, New York. I was a lot more nervous today because you really don't want to let people down."
Nafzger is considering four races for Street Sense's next start, the Massachusetts Handicap on Sept. 22, the Hawthorne Gold Cup and the Kentucky Cup Classic, both Sept. 29, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 30.
After that it's on to the final race of his sensational career, the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at New Jersey's Monmouth Park. Darley Stable owns the breeding rights to Street Sense, and the bay colt will be retired to stud after the Classic.
"It's been a wonderful ride," Borel said before the Travers. "Too bad it has to end soon."
With the victory, Street Sense's record stands at six wins, three seconds and two thirds in 11 career starts. The colt earned $600,000 and boosted his bankroll to more than $4 million for 83-year-old owner James Tafel.
Street Sense was the first Kentucky Derby winner to run in the Travers since Thunder Gulch swept the races in 1995, and became the 10th Derby winner to capture racing's Midsummer Derby.
The Travers win was the second for Nafzger and Tafel. They teamed to win the 2000 edition with Unshaded.
"The second time around is just as sweet to me," Tafel said. "The horse is something we are very proud of."
Sent off as the overwhelming 1-4 favorite, Street Sense covered the 1¼ miles in 2:02.69. The son of Street Cry returned $2.70, $2.20 and $2.10. Grasshopper, trained by Neil Howard, paid $4.60 and $3.60. Helsinki was third and paid $7.80.
Sightseeing was fourth, followed by C P West, Loose Leaf and For You Reppo.
Street Sense was close to the early pace in third as Grasshopper and C P West led. Along the backstretch, Grasshopper took the lead, but Street Sense move up on the outside at the quarter pole. From there, it was a head-to-head battle to the wire.
"I thought he took control at the 16th pole," Nafzger said. "He was in control then but when you have a slower pace it gives everyone a chance to run at you -- he couldn't goof around like he sometimes does."
Street Sense won the Jim Dandy at the Spa last month, and will now be returned to Kentucky to prepare for his next race. Borel, who earlier in the meet won two other Grade 1 races -- the Alabama and the Sword Dancer -- will hate to leave town.
"It's the greatest crowd in the world," Borel said. "It kind of felt like the Derby again."
In other stakes at Saratoga:
--Hard Spun ($4.60) finally found the winner's circle in a Grade 1 race, taking the $250,000 King's Bishop by fending off a challenge from First Defence. Winning time for the seven furlongs was 1:22.34.
The 3-year-old colt had finished second in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness, fourth in the Belmont and second in the Haskell in his last four starts. Trainer Larry Jones decided a shorter distance might work better, and he was right. Jones said he's still considering the Breeders' Cup Classic for Hard Spun.
--Shakis ($12.60) set a turf course record in winning the $200,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap, clocking 1:45.33 for the 1 1/8 miles. The previous mark was 1:45.40 shared by Tentam (1973) and Waya (1978).