- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

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BALTIMORE — By thrusting his right arm into the air, Robby Albarado showed he knew the result.

By looking over to Albarado in a nonverbal concession, Calvin Borel had come to the same conclusion.

The two Louisiana jockeys didn’t need a series of television replays or a photograph to know who won the Preakness Stakes.

Curlin and Albarado won.

Street Sense and Borel lost.

“You got me,” Borel told Albarado as their two star thoroughbreds galloped into the first turn.

But just barely.

Overcoming an early race stumble, Curlin ended Street Sense’s hopes of a Triple Crown by surging from several lengths behind to win by a head bob before a Preakness Day record crowd of 121,263 at Pimlico Race Course.

Racing for only the fifth time, Curlin showed none of his inexperience, winning for the fourth time this year.

“Physically, he belongs to be in this class of races. Mentally, he’s going to get there eventually,” Albarado said. “I’ve always had plenty of questions about his inexperience, but his talent has made him overcome a lot.”

Affirmed’s claim as the last Triple Crown winner (1978) remains safe for another year. It also marks the third consecutive year the Kentucky Derby winner failed to win the Preakness.

“I think he’s as good a horse as he ever was,” Street Sense trainer Carl Nafzger said. “I don’t want to make any excuses for why we got beat. I think my horse got to the lead and thought, ‘I’ve won.’ But Curlin is a racehorse, or he wouldn’t have overcome the lead that we had on him.”

Curlin covered the 1 3/16 miles in 1 minute, 53.46 seconds, tying the race record set by Tank’s Prospect (1985) and Louis Quatorze (1996). It was the first Triple Crown win for Albarado and trainer Steve Asmussen, who assumed conditioning duties in February when an interest of Curlin was sold for $3.5 million.

Hard Spun was third — the top three Kentucky Derby finishers placed 1-2-3 in the Preakness, albeit in a different order. Curlin was third at Churchill Downs after traffic troubles.

“We threw the Derby out because he was blocked and lost his momentum three times,” said Jess Jackson, one of Curlin’s five owners. “We never lost confidence, and that faith was justified today. Winning a classic, Grade I race in his fifth start is an exceptional accomplishment.”

It took some work. Curlin’s race almost was over just as it started when he stumbled coming out of his No. 4 post, and Albarado had to ask for early speed to get him within striking distance.

“He stumbled pretty badly coming out of the gate, and I had to go to Plan B,” Albarado said. “I used him more than I wanted to going past the wire the first time.”

As expected, Xchanger and Flying First class set the early pace, running the first quarter in 22.83 seconds and the opening half-mile in 45.75. And as expected, they eventually folded, though a little earlier than expected.

That left Hard Spun and Mario Pino to take the lead entering the second turn.

“I didn’t want to slow him down too much, but I had to go because the leaders were dead,” said Pino, Maryland’s all-time winningest jockey.

Said Hard Spun trainer Larry Jones: “We felt good, but I knew the cavalry was coming. It just depended on how long we could keep outrunning them.”

The cavalry was Street Sense and Curlin, and they came fast.

“I was surprised how quickly [Xchanger and Flying First Class] stopped and how quickly [Street Sense and Curlin] caught me — that happened really, really quick,” Pino said. “I don’t think there was anything we could have done.”

Street Sense, who won the Kentucky Derby by coming from 17th with a half-mile left, almost pulled a similar winning move in the Preakness. After six furlongs, Street Sense was seventh, but he then catapulted into the lead at the top of the stretch.

“I thought it was all over when I got by Hard Spun turning for home,” Borel said.

But as Street Sense pulled away from Hard Spun, Curlin was getting his act together.

“Street Sense ran up on the inside of us very, very rapidly — and then he exploded away from us,” Albarado said. “But I knew I had some horse underneath me, but I knew I had to get him in line. When my horse did, he exploded.

“Inside the eighth pole, I saw the wire and thought I had enough time to get to Street Sense. I knew he would respond when we got to him, and he did. But Curlin has this way about him in the last quarter-mile of a race. He wants to win.”

As Street Sense appeared to start lugging home, Curlin — racing five-wide — lunged to the victory.

The top three finishers are expected to play a rubber match June 9 in the Belmont Stakes, where Curlin will try and continue his rapid ascension to stardom.

“I think I was the right trainer and Robby was the right rider at the right time for this horse,” Asmussen said. “Everything has fallen together so well.”

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