He was the favorite for a reason, and Street Sense proved he belongs at the top of the 3-year-old division by clinching the 138th running of the Travers Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 25.
The son of Street Cry turned back the determined Neil Howard trainee Grasshopper after hooking up in a fierce duel at the head of the stretch. Bred and owned by James Tafel, he ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.69 for trainer Carl Nafzger and jockey Calvin Borel.
"It’s a wonderful ride,” said Borel. “I told my fiancée the colt of Neil’s was gonna run a big race, but you can’t take nothing from my colt."
Street Sense sat up close to the pace in third as Grasshopper and CP West led through early fractions of :23.68 and :48.18. On the backside, Grasshopper moved up to take the lead under Robby Albarado, running three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.43.
As they hit the quarter pole, Street Sense ranged up two wide to hook up with Grasshopper, who dug in on the rail as the two went neck-and-neck down the stretch. From there, it was a hard-fought battle down to the wire for Street Sense, who got up to win by half a length over the determined Neil Howard trainee. It was 10 1/4-lengths back to Helsinki, who finished third after trailing the frontrunners at the start.
"The idea was to keep riding and keep (Grasshopper) as a target until the last three or four jumps," Borel said. "If I'd hit (Street Sense) left-handed earlier, he'd have jumped away a lot further, but I waited and then when I hit him left-handed right quick he pulled away like I expected him to do. He's got to the point where he does what he has to do, he does what I ask him to do, and as long as he keeps doing that, it's fine with me."
Street Sense "took control at the 16th pole,” said Nafzger. "But when you have a slower pace, it gives everyone a chance to run at you. (Street Sense) couldn’t goof around like he sometimes does. He nearly always will finish when he's hooked up eyeball to eyeball, but when he gets up about a length in front he pricks his ears. Grasshopper didn't give him a chance to prick his ears today.”
Nafzger is the fifth trainer since 1901 to win the Alabama and Travers in the same year, and the first since since LeRoy Jolley in 1976. He won the Alabama with Lady Joanne a week ago.
Borel, who rode Grasshopper in his last start (a 6-length allowance victory at Saratoga July 30), said, "I asked him pretty good and he ran away from the other horse pretty quick, but you can't take anything away from the other horse, either. I've been on him, and I thought I had him measured pretty good."
Street Sense was the first Kentucky Derby winner to run in the Travers since 1995, when Thunder Gulch also won both races. Out of the Dixieland Band mare Bedazzle, Street Sense now has six wins from 10 career starts, including the July 29 Jim Dandy (gr. II) at Saratoga, the May 5 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
Grasshopper, a son of Dixie Union out of the Mr. Prospector mare Grass Skirt, took his career to a new level as he stepped out of the allowance ranks to give Street Sense a run for his money. He now has four wins from six career starts and has never finished worse than third.
"At every point I thought I had him beat until the last stride," said Albarado. "Street Sense is a champion, but this horse is only going to get better."
Neil Howard called Street Sense "unbelievable," adding, "We were thrilled. It was a great effort. He's a nice colt, and he's never run a bad race. We might have to try (Street Sense) again."
Street Sense paid $2.70, $2.20, and $2.10 to win, while Grasshopper returned $4.60 and $3.80 to place. Helsinki and jockey Julien Leparoux brought $7.80 to show. Sightseeing, CP West, Loose Leaf, and For You Reppo rounded out the order of finish.
Trainer Ken McPeek said his horse, sixth-place finisher Loose Leaf, got a bad trip. "He clipped heels with (Sightseeing) at the three-sixteenths pole, he buckled and stumbled real bad, so Kent eased up after that," McPeek said. "Other than that, Street Sense is a great horse, no ifs, ands, or buts."
Nick Zito, trainer of the 3rd- and 5th-place finishers, said, "Helsinki ran great, and CP West just didn't get into the groove with Grasshopper. Like I said, Helsinki was a live horse. I told everybody he wasn't that bad. He ran good. He'll stay running around a mile-and-a-quarter, and with CP West I'll check with (owner) Robert LaPenta and see what he wants to do."
According to Nafzger, several options will be considered for the colt's next start en route to the $5-mllion Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Monmouth Park Oct. 25. Among them are the Sept. 22 Massachussetts Handicap, the Sept .9 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) or Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II), and the Sept. 30 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I).