Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, with jockey Calvin Borel in the saddle, works out earlier this week at Monmouth Park in preparation for Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Street Sense has been called the perfect racehorse, a 3-year-old thoroughbred who doesn't win every race, only the really big ones.
There's one more to go before Street Sense rides off into retirement: the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park on Saturday.
"I've got high hopes he'll pull it off," trainer Carl Nafzger said. "It's going to be exciting. These are the races you want to be in."
Street Sense has taken racing fans on a thrilling, unprecedented yearlong ride.
The bay colt became the first Juvenile winner to capture the Kentucky Derby in the 23-year history of the Breeders' Cup. After a narrow loss in the Preakness, the son of Street Cry became the 10th horse to win the Derby and the Travers, and the first since Thunder Gulch in 1995.
If Street Sense prevails against one of the deepest Classic fields, he will be voted Horse of the Year and become the first 3-year-old to claim the title since Point Given in 2001.
"He always rises to the occasion, always gives his best effort," regular rider Calvin Borel said. "He's moving very forward right now, he's more mature. I don't think he can be beat."
Nafzger won't go that far, but he sounded confident after Street Sense put in a solid final workout Tuesday at Monmouth.
"I have no excuses. It's the best situation you can be in," he said. "Hopefully on Saturday, I won't have any excuses, either."
Nafzger hasn't had to use many, simply because the plan he devised to have Street Sense in peak condition for the biggest events has worked just about every time.
"He is the perfect horse," Nafzger said. "A horse like this happens every once in a while. He meets all the qualifications of a great horse -- good immunity, soundness, ability, lots of class and a great mind."
Street Sense will take on familiar foes in the nine-horse Classic, the final of 11 Breeders' Cup races to be run over two days beginning today. Among them are fellow 3-year-olds Any Given Saturday, Curlin, Hard Spun and Tiago, as well as leading older horse and favorite Lawyer Ron.
Nearly one year ago, Street Sense soared into the spotlight when he shot through along the rail at Churchill Downs and won the Juvenile by 10 lengths, the second-largest margin in a Breeders' Cup race behind Inside Information's 13½-length romp in the 1995 Distaff.
Nafzger then devised an unconventional plan to get Street Sense to the Derby, using just two preps before the Run for the Roses.
"If he can't make it in two preps, he can't make it in three," Nafzger said.
It worked. Street Sense won the Tampa Bay Derby by a nose over Any Given Saturday, then lost by a neck to Dominican in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, a race run on the synthetic Polytrack surface.
In the Derby, Street Sense accelerated around the final turn and pulled away for a 2¼-length win over Hard Spun, with Curlin third. The last Derby winner off two 3-year-old preps was Sunny Halo in 1983.
Two weeks later came a defeat Nafzger called the low point of Street Sense's campaign -- a head loss to Curlin in the Preakness.
"When I saw him go to the lead then get beat, that was the low," Nafzger said.
With a Triple Crown chance eliminated, Nafzger chose to bypass the Belmont Stakes and prepare for a summer in Saratoga. The results? Victories in the Jim Dandy and the Travers Stakes, the latter known as the Mid-Summer Derby.
The next goal was Saturday's Classic, and Nafzger needed a prep for Street Sense. He considered five options, but knowing his colt ran on synthetic surfaces before winning the Juvenile and the Derby, he chose the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park. Plus, it was a short van ride from his home base at Churchill Downs.
Street Sense was beaten by Hard Spun over Polytrack, but the loss told Nafzger all he needed to know.
"He ran over a track he probably doesn't do his best on, but he gave it everything he had, and he dogged it all the way," Nafzger said. "It told me he was right there."
Borel hasn't doubted Nafzger yet, and he's not about to now.
"Carl has been at this for a long time, and he knows how to get a horse to these big races," Borel said. "We didn't win that one, but we finished strong."
Not even the prospect of a muddy track Saturday could deter Borel.
"The more it rains, the better he'll like it," Borel said.
Breeding rights to Street Sense were purchased by Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stable for an undisclosed amount. There was no official decision when Street Sense would join his sire at Darley near Lexington, Ky.
Nafzger won't allow himself to think about the end of a great run.
"You don't want a great play to close before you get tired of watching it," he said.