Preakness one to remember; on to Belmont
BALTIMORE ” Even if he’d rather forget the result, Carl Nafzger still called the Preakness a race to remember.
“It was a spectacular race,” the trainer said Sunday, the day after his Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense lost by a head to trainer Steve Asmussen’s Curlin in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
“Winning isn’t everything in this game. That was a field of very nice horses. I thought Curlin ran an unbelievable race, but you’ve got to remember Asmussen ain’t never won the Derby. I have twice. He got a Preakness.”
Nafzger won the 1990 Derby with Unbridled, who also ran second in the Preakness.
But it was nothing like Saturday’s hold-your-breath finish, when Street Sense looked like a sure winner in the stretch, only to be caught in the final stride by a hard-charging Curlin and jockey Robby Albarado.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of the horse or for the horse,” Asmussen said after winning his first Triple Crown race. “It’s just a grand stage for everybody to see what everybody involved with the horse believed all along.”
And now it’s on to the Belmont Stakes, where there won’t be a Triple Crown try for the third straight year after six attempts the previous 10 years. The last Triple Crown champion was Affirmed in 1978.
“If Street Sense and Curlin show up, then it will be good for the Belmont, maybe like the Affirmed-Alydar rivalry,” said trainer Nick Zito, who played spoiler in the last Triple try in 2004, when Birdstone ran down Smarty Jones in the stretch. “If Hard Spun’s there, too, then you’ve got the top three from the first two races and that would be wonderful.”
Other Belmont contenders include the filly Rags to Riches, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, and four Derby starters who missed the Preakness ” Imawildandcrazyguy (fourth), Tiago (seventh), Nobiz Like Shobiz (10th) and Great Hunter (13th).
Also on the list are Sightseeing, winner of Sunday’s Peter Pan Stakes, Barbaro Stakes winner Chelokee, trained by Michael Matz, Lone Star Derby winner Slew’s Tizzy and Cristobal, who has run twice in France.
For now, it appears Street Sense won’t show up for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the series.
“There’s not really any reason to go there right now,” Nafzger said, but added he’d talk things over with owner James Tafel before reaching a final decision.
Consider Curlin and Hard Spun probables.
“This is the stage this horse deserves and those are the caliber of races he is intended for,” Asmussen said. “It will be up to him physically. Our job is to make sure he is prepared for it.”
Curlin has soared to the top of the 3-year-old division after just five races ” none as a 2-year-old. The big chestnut colt won his first three, including the Arkansas Derby, by a combined 28 1/2 lengths, before finishing third in the Derby despite a troubled trip in the early stages.
Larry Jones, who trains Hard Spun, figures it’s his turn to win a Classic. His colt finished second in the Derby and third in the Preakness.
“We got beat by two really good horses, we sure don’t have anything to be ashamed of,” said Jones. “Carl and Steve are both very nice guys, and I’m sure if all three (horses) go to Belmont, they’re going to feel sorry for him and let me have one.”
Rags to Riches, trained by Todd Pletcher, would be the first filly in the Belmont since Silverbulletday ran seventh in 1999. Pletcher, meanwhile, saw his Triple Crown race record fall to 0-for-28 after Circular Quay finished fifth and King of the Roxy sixth in the Preakness.
Two of the 21 fillies who ran in the Belmont won ” Ruthless in 1867 and Tanya in 1905.
NOTES: Curlin’s winning time for the 1 3-16th-mile Preakness was 1:53.46, equaling the stakes record set by Tank’s Prospect (1985) and matched by Louis Quatorze (1996). …. The Preakness crowd of 121,263 was a record, surpassing the 118,402 who showed up last year.