The streets of New York will be a little less crowded next weekend because Street Sense will not be running in the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) but instead will be pointed toward the Travers (gr. I) at Saratoga and a fall campaign. The announcement was made by trainer Carl Nafzger at a press conference in the Derby Room of the Jockey Club Suites at Churchill Downs Thursday morning.
After two hours of deliberation with breeder/owner James Tafel Wednesday evening, the decision was made not to send their Kentucky Derby-winning colt after the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Less than two weeks ago in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Street Sense was beaten a head by Curlin.
“The competitive side said ‘go’; the logical side said ‘no, no, no,’” Nafzger said.
“The Triple Crown is out; Curlin took us out,” Nafzger said. “We’re not going to the Belmont. We’ve set goals for this horse. We want the Travers and we want the Breeders’ Cup Classic. We could be the first horse to win the (Breeders’ Cup) Juvenile, the Derby, the Travers, and the Classic, Mr. Tafel said these are worthy goals, let go after it. Let’s don’t chase spilt water. We spilt the water in the Preakness.
“I can’t believe we got beat, but we got beat,” the trainer said. “We got outrun. That’s behind us. The decision now is to regroup. We will be at the Travers as long as the horse is healthy and 110%. We will be at Monmouth Park for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“We went over a lot of situations last night, the decision was made. There were a lot of reasons to run and a lot of reasons not to run. Mr. Tafel wanted the Triple Crown like you can’t believe. It really deflated us. I told Mr. Tafel the horse is in great shape. He’s doing good. We worked him a light half, so it set him up that we could bounce either way."
Yesterday, the homebred son of Street Cry—Bedazzle, by Dixieland Band, breezed four furlongs over a "fast" track in :49 under jockey Calvin Borel. Street Sense covered the distance in fractions of :12.80, :24.60, and :36.60, and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.80. The work ranked 19th out of 39 at the distance.
“We’d love to go to the Belmont, but let’s back off and look at a fall campaign,” Nafzger said. “The Belmont is the ending of a spring campaign and the Travers is the start of the fall campaign. If we win the Belmont, then how can we bring him back sharp enough? We would not have time for a prep. We’d have to be on top of our game to run in the Travers. So we sort of chose between the Belmont and the Travers.”
Before the Preakness, Nafzger said, “We really believed we could go to the Belmont and win the Triple Crown and become something that every sportsman believes is special. We like to compete and we like to run. We really had the Triple Crown in our mind.”
With the defection of Street Sense, the field for next Saturday’s Belmont remains small. At this moment, only five are pointed toward the race: Curlin, Hard Spun, Slew’s Tizzy, Tiago, and Imawildandcrazyguy. That would make for the smallest field in the classic since three rivals showed up to take on Affirmed and Alydar in 1978. Since then there has been three six-horse fields: in 2003 when Funny Cide finished third behind Empire Makerin his bid for the Triple Crown; in 1994 (Tabasco Cat); and 1988 (Risen Star). The latter two winners were also Preakness winners.
The Derby winner has not also won the Belmont Stakes since 1995 when Thunder Gulch pulled off the double. Afleet Alex, in 2005, won both the Preakness and Belmont after finishing third in the Run for the Roses. Curlin finished third behind Street Sense and Hard Spun this year under the Twin Spires.
“As a sportsman, you want to come back and challenge Curlin now,” he said. “Curlin has a big advantage on us. Curlin is an outstanding horse. He had three races before the Kentucky Derby. He’s now won four out of five starts. I hate to say this, but the Derby was a learning experience for him. This is a nice horse.
“We’d also like to paint the canoe, and every horseman wants to win the Breeders’ Cup Classsic,” Nafzger said. “Mr. Tafel has painted the canoe once, and I told him, ‘let’s see if we can paint it one more time.’”
In the infield lake at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York, there is a canoe that is painted with the winning silks of that year’s Travers winner. Tafel’s blue and yellow colors were on display after his Unshaded won the “Mid-Summer’s Classic” in 2000.
“We have the Jim Dandy and the Haskell if he is sound and ready,” Nafzger said regarding prep for the Travers, and “a million races to chose from in the fall,” to make their way to the Breeders’ Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge.
Beyond this year, Nafzger was non-committal on a 4-year-old campaign for Street Sense.
“Knowing the offers that are coming in on this horse, which I don’t know the details of, but I know it’s getting economically impossible to run,” he said. “But I also know Mr. Tafel. He’s a sportsman and he wants to win.”
Nafzger’s announcement was a slight surprise considering speculation on the backstretch of Churchill Downs before the decision pointed toward Street Sense running in the Belmont.
“He’s going,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who sent out Belmont winners Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch, and Commendable (2000). “I don’t think he would have worked him (Street Sense) yesterday if he wasn’t going.”
“If I had to gamble, I’d say he’s going,” said trainer Vickie Foley, stabled in nearby Barn 37. “After reading the Courier this morning, (jockey) Calvin (Borel) seemed to be quite satisfied with how the horse was doing. You can only make that decision if the animal is doing good. I’d like to hope, that if I was in that position, that I could come back and run. It would be exciting and good for the sport."
Mike McCarthy, assistant trainer to Todd Pletcher, said he didn’t think Street Sense had much to prove since he won the Derby, and weighed the options between running in the Belmont or waiting for the Travers (gr. I) at Saratoga in August. “He’s got nothing to be scared of, and it’s still a classic race,” he said. “There are only three of them.”