Steve Haskin's BC Countdown: A Sense of Saratoga
Street Sense is back and so is Rags to Riches. All is once again right with the racing world. If Curlin emerges victorious from next week’s Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I), then the Breeders’ Cup World Championships will have the star power it so desperately needs.
The news that Rags to Riches will resume training came as a pleasant -- make that an ecstatic -- surprise to all those who felt certain we had seen the last of this super filly. With her scheduled arrival at Saratoga set for Tuesday afternoon, next week’s column will be devoted to the Belmont winner and her impact on the sport.
But for now, it’s all about Street Sense, and let’s not forget Lawyer Ron, whose time in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) was so out of whack with the other times over the weekend, the New York Racing Association studied it back and forth and concluded the colt’s track-record time of 1:46.64 was correct, putting him in a different time zone than the other horses that competed during those two days.
So, apparently, the older horse division is alive and well, and there is a worthy foe with the speed and brilliance to compete with the 3-year-olds. Now, if only Lava Man will attempt one final raid back East, we should have an exciting match-up of generations in the Breeders’ Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I).
Watching Street Sense graze outside trainer Carl Nafzger’s barn Monday morning was a stark contrast to the pandemonium that broke out following the colt’s victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II). With jockey Calvin Borel orchestrating the wild scene with his seemingly uncontrollable theatrics, there was a jolt of electricity that can only be generated at Saratoga. Every time Borel lifted himself up in the saddle and pointed down at Street Sense with his two index fingers, the crowd responded with a resounding ovation.
It had been a dozen years since the last Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner competed at the Spa the same year, and the fans showed their appreciation by converging on the paddock area to get a glimpse of Street Sense. When the horse arrived a wave of cheers went up, as photographers -- professionals and amateurs -- dashed across the paddock to get a picture of him.
The one person who virtually lives with Street Sense is Paul Rutherford, who is the colt’s hotwalker in the morning and a lawyer in the afternoon. For Saratoga, he has taken a six-week vacation to be with the horse.
“When we were walking to the detention barn, people were shouting, ‘Thanks for bringing him,’” he said while grazing the horse following his Monday morning jog. “As we walked on the horse path to the paddock, they were shouting, ‘That’s Street Sense. That’s Street Sense. Go, big guy.’ It was the most amazing thing. I’m getting chills talking about it. It’s just so cool being with him.”
The Jim Dandy turned out to be a perfect prep for the Travers and told us a great deal more about Street Sense, who had previously been the recipient of extraordinary racing luck, getting through on the rail in races like the grade I Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and grade III Tampa Bay Derby.
In the Jim Dandy, Borel attempted to tempt fate again by hugging the rail, but it was obvious down the backstretch that he was trapped in a box behind C P West and Flashstorm, with Cowtown Cat and Garrett Gomez blocking his path to the outside. When it became apparent nothing was going to open for him on the rail, it was time for desperate measures. Street Sense had outrun Cowtown Cat just enough to ease his way to the outside, but he still was still going to be forced to make his own hole. Borel came off the rail and Street Sense bullied his way out, literally shoving Cowtown Cat out of his way.
With clear sailing, he took off after C P West, who was running the race of his life. But C P West came out and gave Street Sense a pretty solid bump. The Derby winner gathered himself and came on again, this time drifting in from several right-handed whips from Borel. He finally shook free from a stubborn C P West and drew off to a 1 1/2-length victory, as Borel blew a kiss to the fans and the cheers began to swell. This was the magic of Saratoga; the magic of a Kentucky Derby winner making a triumphant return; the magic of what horse racing can and should be.
While Street Sense’s time for the 1 1/8 miles was well off Lawyer Ron’s freaky time, it was faster than Ginger Punch in the Go For Wand Stakes (gr. I), also the day before. And let’s remember that Street Sense ran his third quarter in :22 4/5 and still came home in :24 2/5 and :12 3/5 despite a less than smooth trip in the final five-sixteenths.
And this was far from his peak effort. As Carl Nafzger said, “Mission accomplished. We’re back.”
That’s all that mattered.
Ron and Ray
At 8:30 the morning of the Whitney, blacksmith Ray Amato was putting the final nails in Lawyer Ron’s new shoes. The son of Langfuhr stood calmly, barely moving a muscle, as Amato’s assistant Joe Estrada stroked his head and planted an occasional kiss. But Amato felt something that escaped the naked eye.
“Joe, can you bring his head around, he’s laying on me pretty good,” he said to Estrada, feeling the strength of Lawyer Ron pushing against him. “Come on Ron, stand up here now.” After a few minutes, Amato was unable to continue. “Joe, I’m going to have to let him go, he’s really laying on me.”
This seemingly insignificant scene took on a good deal more meaning later that afternoon when Lawyer Ron laid all over his 10 opponents, who also felt the colt’s strength as he powered his way to a 4 3/4-length victory in track-record time of 1:46.64, which bettered the old record of 1:47 set by Tri Jet in 1974 and equaled by Left Bank (1:47.04) in 2004.
As mentioned earlier, we have another legitimate star in the older horse division, and judging from the flashes of brilliance we’ve already seen from Lawyer Ron, who knows what he can go on to accomplish this year. He has always showed a keen enthusiasm for racing and training, as witnessed by his energetic gallops and overall demeanor before last year’s Kentucky Derby. Now, he has learned to relax and contain that enthusiasm will the help of draw reins that he wears in his gallops. This is a horse who loves what he’s doing, and that alone should make him a popular addition to racing’s equine elite.
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