Turning for home in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), Street Sense seemed to materialize on the lead from out of nowhere with a move so explosive, even the normally eagle-eyed race caller Trevor Denman missed it.
One minute, most eyes were focused on Great Hunter and Circular Quay charging at the leaders from the outside, and the next, there was Street Sense, on the rail, alone in front, and increasing his lead with every stride. At the wire, the son of Street Cry was 10 lengths in front of Circular Quay, with the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male already resting on the mantel of owner and breeder James Tafel.
So, how did the 15-1 Street Sense make such a dramatic turnaround following his third-place finish behind Great Hunter and Circular Quay in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) and a third-place finish in the Arlington-Washington Breeders’ Cup Futurity (gr. III)?
Trainer Carl Nafzger said it was all about maturity and being back home. “This horse was special right from the beginning,” Nafzger said. “In his first start, the horse that beat him, Unbridled Express, already had a start, and you know me, I’m going to concentrate more on giving a horse experience than winning his first start. He ran a good race, and then in his next race we let him get into it more and he ran big to break his maiden. He just needed to mature a little. In the Arlington Futurity, it was sloppy, and we hadn’t planned on being on the front end. And they ran real fast early.
“Every time this colt would make the lead, he’d come back under you and slack off. At Arlington, he took the lead and looked like he was going to pull away. I said, ‘OK, come on home, big boy,’ and he just slacked off and let them catch him. In the Breeders’ Futurity, he made the exact same move he did in the Breeders’ Cup, except that when he got to the front, he thought, ‘Oh, I won,’ and he slacked off again. He was just immature, and he thought the race was over once he got the lead. He didn’t understand humans had a wire you had to cross before you won and that he had to keep going.”
By the time the Breeders’ Cup rolled around, Street Sense had developed a lot more, well, street sense. And he was back at Churchill Downs, where he had been based a good part of the year.
“He had matured a great deal by then and he was back on his home track,” said Nafzger, who knows about Derby horses, having saddled Unbridled to a memorable victory in the 1990 Run for the Roses.
“Churchill was where we let him run down that lane every time he worked. I think he knew where he was and where he was used to running the last part of it. Also, it was his second time going two turns.”
The Juvenile field included Hopeful (gr. I) winner Circular Quay, Breeders’ Futurity winner Great Hunter, Champagne (gr. I) winner Scat Daddy, Belmont Futurity (gr. II) winner King of the Roxy, Norfolk Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. II) winner Stormello, Arlington-Washington Futurity dead-heat winner Got the Last Laugh, and Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) winner U D Ghetto, as well as the runners-up in the Hopeful, Breeders’ Futurity, Norfolk, and Belmont Futurity.
“I think that was one of the best and deepest Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fields ever,” Nafzger said.
Street Sense, under Calvin Borel, was far back early in the 14-horse field, with only one horse—Circular Quay—behind him. On the far turn, the closers were being pushed along, gradually making up ground.
But there was one horse that looked as if he were moving in a different time frame than the others. Borel steered him to the rail, where a gaping hole had opened, and in the blink of an eye, he was gone, on his way to the biggest winning margin in the history of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the second-biggest margin of any Breeders’ Cup race.
His time of 1:42.59 for the 1 1/16 miles was 1.22 seconds faster than the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), won by the undefeated Dreaming of Anna. And despite winning by 10 lengths, Street Sense still flew home his final sixteenth in :06.09.
Nafzger is excited as he and Street Sense prepare to embark on the Derby trail. “I’m very fortunate to have such a talented colt,” he said. “I’ve never been quite so high on a horse in my life.”
(Article appears in the January 27, 2007 issue of The Blood-Horse)