Hurley Returns to Virginia With Colonial Pick

Former basketball standout Bobby Hurley hopes his 3-year-old colt Stream Cat can do what many of his Duke squads didn't: win in Virginia.

Although he played during Duke's most successful and visible era between 1990 and 1993, only once in four tries could Hurley celebrate victory on the home floor of the University of Virginia's Cavaliers.

Hurley's 3-year-old colt, Stream Cat, is the 7-2 favorite in Saturday's $1 million Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs. Post time for the first leg of the $5 million Jacobs Investments Grand Slam of Grass is 5:40 p.m.

"We did not have a lot of success in Charlottesville," recalls Hurley. "I never had a good game there individually, and we never played well as a team there."

Hurley remembers his sophomore trip to University Hall as one of the worst days of his life. After a loss and a four and-a-half hour bus ride home, Coach Mike Krzyzewski led his Blue Devils off the bus and into Cameron Indoor Stadium for an impromptu practice. Teammate Grant Hill had his nose broken during that practice.

It wouldn't be the first time Hurley has returned to the home state of one of Duke's rivals with a promising 3-year-old. In 2001, his Songandaprayer ran in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Hurley was part of one of the greatest finishes in NCAA tournament history when Duke beat Kentucky 104-103 at the overtime buzzer on Christian Laettner's legendary top of the key jump shot after receiving a full court pass from Hill.

"I had that apprehension about Kentucky, too, but Kentucky fans dealt with that pretty well," observes Hurley about Songandaprayer's Derby outing. "It was a tremendous experience, but I knew it was trouble when he went out too fast. He really cut out some quick fractions."

Remember: Churchill Downs is in Louisville, not Lexington, where the University of Kentucky is located.

Could Virginia fans cheer Stream Cat in the post parade?

"That would be different," remarked Hurley. "But I think people in Virginia appreciate good basketball."

Nice try.

Hurley's interest in racing began when he started going to Monmouth Park while playing in the NBA for the New Jersey Nets. After his NBA career ended, he purchased two horses in 1999 and currently has eight Thoroughbreds training as part of a stable that generally fluctuates between six and twelve.

"I began to enjoy racing at Monmouth and then started to follow the Triple Crown, the Breeders' Cup, and the bigger stakes races with hopes of someday participating in them."

In a short period of time, the former point guard has become quite knowledgeable of horse racing. He has partnered with John Dowd, the retired trainer that saddled Songandaprayer in Louisville, and bloodstock agent Jack Goldthorpe to create Derby Dream Stable. The trio put their minds together and purchased Stream Cat for $120,000 when Hurley thought that Stream Cat stood out physically and had a "good pedigree page" at Keeneland's September Yearling Sale in 2004.

The following year Hurley returned to Keeneland hoping to sell Stream Cat but never received an offer to meet the sales price. Trainer Patrick Biancone had inquired about the colt, but the two sides didn't come to terms on the purchase. Hurley appreciated Biancone's interest in the colt and offered the son of Black Minnaloushe to Biancone to train. Stream Cat is the only horse Biancone currently trains for Hurley.

Before Stream Cat, Hurley's prior racing interest had been almost exclusively on the dirt, but with Biancone's European turf background, the turf was always an option.

"This is the first true turf horse that I've had," commented Hurley. "I'm more of a dirt surface kind of guy."

Racing at Saratoga last summer, Stream Cat had a disappointing result in his first start on the dirt, finishing fifth. Later in the meet, Stream Cat broke his maiden in the $67,000 With Anticipation Stakes on the turf.

"After the Saratoga stake, we saw the capabilities he had of becoming a very good grass horse," explained Hurley.

However, Hurley's dirt preference temporarily prevailed when Stream Cat returned to the dirt and won the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) at Turfway Park on his way to the $2 million Bessemer Trust Breeder's Cup Juvenile (gr. I). With an unfavorable trip right out of the starting gate, Stream Cat finished eighth.

"He received an injury in the Breeders' Cup," explained Biancone. "He had a chip in his knee, and it was too short to go to the Triple Crown. When we saw the two big races at Colonial, we started to prepare for that."

In his first 2006 start, jockey Julien Leparoux hustled Stream Cat to catch Go Between, also entered on Saturday, at the wire in the $200,000 Crown Royal American Turf (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs. Three weeks later at Lone Star Park, Stream Cat, again with Leparoux aboard, prevailed in the $150,000 Pin Oak Stud USA Stakes, making him undefeated in his three turf starts. Leparoux returns to ride Stream Cat on Saturday.

"We're happy he was able to come off the bench and win like he did," said Hurley. "He was able to win at Lone Star, although we really didn't think he liked the soft track. I think that says a lot about him."

In this trip to Virginia, Hurley won't have to match up against Cavaliers or even Monarchos, the 2001 Kentucky Derby (gr. 1) winner that beat Songandaprayer.

"Obviously, it will be a very competitive field. I'm not sure that we've come up on a strategy yet for this race," said Hurley.

With three Final Four appearances resulting in two NCAA national championships, Hurley's teams know what it's like being the one to beat.

He's bound to come up with something.