Commentary: Peak Preakness
Street Sense almost ran the perfect race in the 132nd edition of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico May 19. Almost perfect, but not quite. And that one flaw, just a momentary lapse in deep stretch, was enough to deny the son of Street Cry the opportunity to become Thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner.
Street Sense had to be perfect to win this classic over a very formidable opponent named Curlin, whose only defeat in four previous starts came in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill Downs May 5. Street Sense and jockey Calvin Borel didn’t encounter a single straw in their path that day, getting the best of trips imaginable in a 20-horse field and cruising to a 2 1⁄4-length victory over the front-running Hard Spun. Curlin, who had more than his share of trouble in the Derby, wound up third, beaten eight lengths.
Borel gave Street Sense another terrific ride in the Preakness, lagging well off a hot pace and rallying to the lead at the top of the stretch. Among those he overtook was Curlin, whose long, lumbering strides were not suited for the lightly banked Pimlico turns. Once straightened away, however, jockey Robby Albarado got Curlin in full flight, and the son of Smart Strike began eating into Street Sense’s lead.
Inside the sixteenth pole, after victory seemed almost assured, Street Sense appeared to ease up for an instant, his stride more nonchalant than determined. Borel turned his head backwards to see how quickly the competition was gaining. At worst, Borel’s look back caused him to miss a stroke of the whip at a critical time in the race. But it’s doubtful the quick peek cost Street Sense the victory.
By now, Curlin had all the momentum and Street Sense’s advantage was nearly lost. In an ordinary horse race, Curlin would have eased past the leader and taken a clear advantage to the wire. But the Preakness was no ordinary race.
Street Sense, in a desperate last-ditch effort, responded to Curlin’s challenge, digging in with determination those last few strides, and casting doubt on the outcome. But the bob of the heads went to Curlin, and the wait for a Triple Crown winner was extended at least another year.
The fighting spirit shown by both Curlin and Street Sense in this terrific stretch battle epitomizes what breeding and racing Thoroughbreds is all about. It was a race for the ages, arguably the best Preakness since the epic battle between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in 1989.
WHERE'S THE TRANSPARENCY?
The connections surrounding Curlin are not an easy group for some people to warm up to. For starters, there’s Steve Asmussen, who spent six months on suspension last year for a medication violation.
Then there’s the “eclectic” mix of owners: including Jess Jackson and Satish Sanan, who in recent years have crusaded for transparency and higher ethical standards in horse industry practices. Along with West Coast investment professional George Bolton, Jackson and Sanan bought controlling interest from a pair of Kentucky attorneys, Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion, whose licenses to practice law have been temporarily suspended because of possible misconduct involving fees they received in a class-action lawsuit.
Jackson brushed aside questions about how much he and his partners paid for their share in Curlin after the colt broke his maiden in February. He also opted not to disclose the percentages of ownership each partner has in the horse.
While transparency at Thoroughbred auctions and in private transactions may be two different things, Jackson missed an opportunity to practice the openness that he’s been preaching to Kentucky’s state legislature and industry leaders.
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