There they were at the head of the stretch, and the Sept. 29 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) (VIDEO) had developed into the showdown everyone had hoped it would be. On the lead, Hard Spun barreled toward the finish line. Just off his hip, Street Sense dug deep to reel him in. This time, unlike in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Hard Spun would not be denied the victory.
The 1 1/8-mile Classic brought sweet results for the connections of the hard-knocking son of Danzig, who finished behind Street Sense twice this year when he was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness (gr. I). The Larry Jones-trained 3-year-old proved his affinity for the Turfway Park Polytrack, where he won the Lanes’ End Stakes (gr. II) this March, while Street Sense has yet to get a victory over the synthetic surface.
Nursed wire-to-wire in a confident ride from Mario Pino, Hard Spun got the perfect trip from the number one post position. He rated comfortably for Pino through early fractions of :24.45 and :48.18 as Calvin Borel kept Street Sense close up on the outside, about a half-length off Hard Spun's hip. Cat Shaker raced in third, while the Patrick Biancone-trained Stream Cat was fourth.
“I thought it was going to work like that,” Pino said after the race. “Two good horses like that, you have to be close together. I got him to relax and felt him crawling along early. At the three-eighths pole he dropped his head down, going faster and faster to the wire. (Hard Spun) is a powerful fighter; he dug in all the way to the end.”
As the field turned for home, Borel sent Street Sense after the leader, and although the Carl Nafzger trainee drew even with Hard Spun’s girth mid-stretch, he couldn’t catch the determined colt. Hard Spun reached down to turn back his nemesis, taking the $350,000 event by 1 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:48.48. Stream Cat got up for third, while Cat Shaker finished fourth.
“He had heard about this match race and was ready to get it on,” said Jones. "I think our horse contained himself as long as he could. He was ready to go. We knew that with the pace scenario, we wanted to make Street Sense chase us. This was a very good (Breeders' Cup) prep ... this should set him up perfectly (for the Classic)."
Hard Spun has now won seven of his 12 career starts, with two second-place finishes and one third. He came into the race off a 1 /2-length victory in the Aug. 25 King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, and his share of the Kentucky Cup Classic purse pushed his lifetime earnings to $1,673,470. He returned $3.80 and $2.10 to win, while Street Sense paid $2.10 to place.
Owner Rick Porter said the Pennsylvania-bred colt would make his next start in the Oct. 27 Breeders’ Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I), barring unforeseen complications.
Street Sense has finished second or third in each of his three attempts over the Polytrack, but those losses don’t concern trainer Carl Nafzger, who noted that each of the Street Cry colt’s greatest victories – last year’s Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and this year’s Kentucky Derby – came after a third-place Polytrack prep in the Arlington-Washington Breeders’ Cup Futurity (gr. III) at Arlington Park and a second-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.
Jockey Calvin Borel agreed.
"You can’t go that slow and catch a horse like that," he said. "Don’t worry, my horse will show up in four weeks. He always struggles a bit on Polytrack, but that sets him up perfectly. I ain’t worried about it. In four weeks, he’ll be a different horse.”
"Let’s not make excuses," Nafzger said. "I think it was a great run. We ran a good race. We’re ready to go on. It was up to him at the head of the lane to get by Hard Spun. I thought he could do it. But it was hard to get by anyone all day. He just outran us. I just think Larry’s horse ran a better race than we did, and I mean it. There’s a lot of excuses when you lose, but let’s put it this way: When you get beat, you get beat.”
Street Sense, who came off back-to-back wins in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) and Jim Dandy (gr. I) at Saratoga, will also head to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He now has a career record of 6-4-2 from 12 starts and has amassed earnings of $4,128,200 for owner James Tafel.
And so the much-anticipated $5-million race at Monmouth Park sets up with added intrigue. Is Hard Spun peaking at just the right time? Will Street Sense be able to turn him back in a much-anticipated rematch? What about older horse Lawyer Ron, who goes up against Preakness winner Curlin in the Sept. 30 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park? Those questions – and the question of this year's 3-year-old championship – will be answered 27 days from now. Stay tuned.