- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

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BALTIMORE — Blame the blimp.

Had NBC not splurged and provided viewers with a sensational overhead view of the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, the legend that has become Street Sense’s dash from 17th place with a half-mile remaining to a 2-1/2 length victory wouldn’t be growing.

And the disbelief among rival trainers about how the winner could enjoy such a clean trip along the rail wouldn’t be so justified.

The videotape doesn’t lie, though. Space along the rail opened up just when Street Sense and jockey Calvin Borel needed to make their move, allowing the colt to never stop his momentum and enabling him to pass 14 horses in a quarter mile.

Entering Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, Larry Jones, trainer of second-place Hard Spun, still wonders how the only horse making a run capable of beating his colt was allowed to cruise unscathed, save for a couple of switches in track position.

“I’ve watched that aerial view of the Derby several times and I don’t know whether to be ecstatic or upset that 15 jockeys were between Mario [Pino] and Calvin and all decided that the rail wasn’t the place to be,” Jones said.

In several Derby under-card races, Jones saw the rail was the right spot to be. So he was upset other jockeys and trainers didn’t hold that opinion — as accurate as it turned out to be — and didn’t make Borel — aboard the post-time favorite — travel more ground and stray from his beloved Churchill Downs rail.

Street Sense was 17th (third-to-last) with a half-mile remaining. Since 1903, only 15 Derby winners came from as far back as 10th place with a half-mile left. Street Sense’s rally was the second-best during that span, behind only Giacomo’s 18th-to-first journey two years ago.

But at least Giacomo had to be steered eight-wide to make his final push. Street Sense ventured off the rail only to blow past Sedgefield and Hard Spun.

“I wish something would have cost him 20 feet of the race track. I figured we lost by 18 feet,” Jones said. “How Calvin could ride the rail the entire way and all the jockeys would give him the same trip as he got in the Breeders’ Cup … he should have had a bulls-eye on his back and had every jockey wondering, ‘Where’s Borel?’ and then look to their left to find him.”

Street Sense and Borel’s good fortune remains the talk of horse racing entering the second leg of the Triple Crown. The Preakness is set for 6:04 p.m. at Pimlico Race Course.

A field of nine was finalized yesterday. The top three Derby finishers — Street Sense (7-5), Hard Spun (5-2) and Curlin (7-2) — are the three morning line favorites.

It will be up to the eight other competitors to keep Street Sense from taking and staying on the rail throughout the 1 3/16-mile race.

Street Sense is two-for-two at Churchill Downs, compared to 1-for-4 in grades stakes races at other tracks. But the Street Sense camp, naturally, doesn’t buy the belief the colt can only beat quality competition in Louisville, Ky., and absolutely, positively needs the rail to excel.

“This is a push button horse and he can start and stop on a dime,” Street Sense owner/breeder Jim Tafel said. “If the hole or the rail had shut down, Calvin said that wouldn’t have worried him. He could have gone around the whole field, that’s how much horse he felt he had.”

Although puzzled by the performance of other jockeys, Jones marveled at Borel’s commitment to the rail even though he had 15 horses between him and Hard Spun and only a half-mile to get to the front.

“He showed a lot of courage staying down there and he got the perfect trip on the perfect day,” Jones said. “There is nobody in the game that will ride the rail tighter than Calvin. If you give him room to get a fourth of his horse into a spot, he’ll squeeze the entire horse in there.”

Curlin trainer Steve Asmussen, meanwhile, was taken aback with Street Sense’s instant acceleration that saw him pass 14 horses in unofficially 16 seconds.

“The most impressive thing about Street Sense is that he went around three horses so fast and then was almost immediately back on the fence,” Asmussen said. “Nobody could accelerate with him to keep him off the rail. He went around Sedgefield in one jump, then around Hard Spun quickly and was back on the fence. How fast he ran that quarter of a mile was incredible. … He went by Cowtown Cat in a hole that I didn’t think a cheetah would have fit through.”

In the Derby, Street Sense got a favorable pace scenario: Hard Spun ran the first quarter in 22.96 seconds and the first half in 46.26 seconds. Xchanger and Flying First Class are expected to set the pace in the Preakness. If they go slower, that could hamper Street Sense’s comeback ability.

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