A lessonconfirmed: Triple Crown dreams are best expressed with caution. Street Sensecame to last Saturday's Preakness after a dominant Kentucky Derby victory soresonant that his guileless Cajun jockey, Calvin Borel, was invited to a statedinner at the White House. His trainer, Texan Carl Nafzger, was praisedeffusively for his skillful conditioning. The racing game again readied itselffor history. "If he can get by this one, he looks like he can run all dayin the Belmont," said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas,promisingly." ¬∂ By scarcely the length of a colt's head, those expectationswere cast aside. A different Cajun jockey won the Preakness, and a differentTexan trainer as well. Five co-owners were rewarded for a deal hammered outwhile the rest of the country watched Super Bowl XLI, and racing's Triple Crowndrought was extended to 29 years, since Affirmed edged Alydar.
An eighth of amile from the finish of the Preakness, Street Sense was clear by 1 1/2 lengthsas a record crowd of 121,263 brought itself to full throat in a cool drizzle atPimlico Race Course. "You take a lead in a horse race, you're expected tofinish it off," said Nafzger afterward. Instead, it was the precociousCurlin, the third-place finisher in the Derby in just his fourth career start,who ran down Street Sense for rider Robby Albarado and won at the wire. It wasthe closest Preakness finish in a decade, and Curlin's time of 1:53.46 matchedthe Preakness record set by Tank's Prospect (1985) and Louis Quatorze(1996).
Curlin's victoryfinished off a breakneck rush that began on Feb. 3, when the colt, who had satout his 2-year-old season with sore shins, won the first race of his life, atGulfstream Park, by 12 3/4 lengths. "We had 25 offers to sell him, and wehad to make a business decision," says Bill Gallion, who with fellowKentucky lawyer Shirley Cunningham Jr. make up Midnight Cry Stable. They hadbought Kentucky-bred Curlin for $57,000 at the Keeneland yearling sale.
The mostpersistent bidder was Lexington bloodstock agent John Moynihan, who workedthroughout the next day, Super Bowl Sunday, to complete a deal. "My goalwas to finish by halftime," says Moynihan. His primary client wasKendall-Jackson wine magnate Jess Jackson, 77, who in 2004 had triedunsuccessfully to buy Afleet Alex, winner of the 2005 Preakness and Belmont.Moynihan helped bring in software entrepreneur and Padua Stables principalSatish Sanan and investment banker George Bolton during negotiations.
Together the threemen bought 80% of Curlin (31% to Jackson, 29% to Sanan, 20% to Bolton) for aprice that Sanan says was "in the ballpark" of $3.5 million. In thedays after the sale was agreed upon, Gallion turned down offers that he sayswere "multiples higher," but none would have allowed Midnight Cry toretain a piece of the horse. (Even Gallion and Cunningham's 20% ownership mightbe at risk; they have been suspended from practicing law in Kentucky whileaccused of misappropriating clients' settlement funds.)
From thebeginning, the new owners had only a vague idea of what they had bought."We hoped that Curlin would be good," says Jackson, "but we neverdreamed that he would develop so explosively."
That developmentwas left in the hands of trainer Steve Asmussen, 41, who regularly leads thenation in starts and victories, though he doesn't rake in the purse money likeEclipse Award--winning trainer Todd Pletcher. Asmussen's father, Keith, was ajockey and his mother, Marilyn, a trainer. His older brother, Cash, was one ofthe most successful jockeys in the world in the late 1970s and '80s, and Stevehad hoped to follow in his footsteps. But when he grew to nearly 6 feet, thatplan was scrapped. "My father is 5'4", my mother is a five-footer, andI turned into this big, gangly kid," says Asmussen. "It was extremelydisappointing."
Curlin was flownfrom Florida to Asmussen's winter training base at the Fair Grounds in NewOrleans. Right away Asmussen saw something special. "He reminded me ofPoint Given or Barbaro--big, strong horses," he recalls. "He was thekind of horse who was clearly capable of winning classic races." Curlin wontwo preps at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., by a combined 15 3/4lengths.
In the KentuckyDerby, Curlin was trying to become the first horse in 125 years to win withouthaving raced as a 2-year-old. He ran commendably, closing to third after atroubled trip. Said Nafzger five days before the Preakness, "Curlin is thehorse that's going to get better off the Derby."
Albarado, 33, whowas born in Lafayette, La., and raced on the same bush tracks as Borel, wascharged with making that happen. Then on Saturday, two races before thePreakness, he was dumped on the Pimlico turf course when a horse in front ofhis mount went down. Luckily, Albarado walked away unhurt. "I know how tofall," he said, "and I know how to get up."
In the Preakness,Albarado came four wide off the final turn as Borel gunned Street Sense pasthim on the inside. "I could see that Robby was guiding him, but not ridinghim yet," Asmussen said. When Albarado finally dug into Curlin, the onlyquestion was whether he would get Street Sense before the wire. "This horsewas meant for stages like this and the Belmont Stakes," Asmussen said ofCurlin. But while the Preakness winner might run in the third leg of the TripleCrown on June 9, there probably won't be a rubber match. "If [owner James]Tafel says, Go to the Belmont, we'll go," said Nafzger of Street Sense,"but I doubt it."
The unlikelihoodof a rematch seemed insignificant late on Saturday, as Jackson celebrated in aparty near the Pimlico stakes barn. The winemaker sipped champagne from a glassflute. "I don't know what kind of champagne it is," Jackson said,"but I know what it represents." With that, he raised the glass towardthe darkening sky.
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Right away, Asmussen saw SOMETHING SPECIAL in Curlin."He reminded me of Point Given or Barbaro," the trainer said.
WHIPPED Derby winner Street Sense (right) will probably skip the Belmont after Curlin passed him in the final stride last Saturday.
HEAD GAME In the closest Preakness finish in a decade, Albarado (right), aboard Curlin (4), ended the joyride of fellow Cajun Borel.
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS (MIDDLE)
[See caption above.]
[See caption above.]