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Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Smile Turns to A Grimace

- I don't know that the Preakness was quite as compelling as the 1997 edition that I referred to the other day. But this year's edition was a remarkable race in its own right, with two extraordinary performances by two fine three-year olds. The final time of 1:53.46 was the fastest since Louis Quartorze ran 1:53.43 in 1996; and just the second time since Summer Squall in 1990 that the 1:54 mark was broken. Expressed in fifths, it ties the track record held by the aforementioned and Tank's Prospect

Street Sense once again showed the push-button acceleration that carried him effortlessly past rivals in the Derby and Juvenile, proving that he's not just a horse for the Churchill rail. No sooner did Tom Durkin note that he was still 12 lengths behind, he took off again, saving ground on the turn before swinging out and splitting Curlin to his ouside, and C P West and Hard Spun to his inside to take command.

We all remember the classic TV moment from 1990 when Carl Nafzger told Mrs. Genter that she had won the Kentucky Derby. On Saturday, Nafzger provided another memorable moment captured on camera, but one that he would rather soon forget. I hope you all got to see this, because it really reflected the unlikely nature of what occured. When Street Sense passed his rivals, Nafzger gave a little poke to owner James Tafel, and broke into the kind of smile that only one who is absolutely certain of victory would display. It was probably very similar to the look on my face as I felt that I had picked my first Triple Crown race winner on this blog, not caring if it was a 6-5 favorite. I actually stopped watching Street Sense and Curlin at that point, and, hoping to hit the trifecta, looked behind for Circular Quay, who just certainly had to be coming after those fast opening fractions, right?

Of course, Nafzger's smile slowly - very slowly - changed to one of concern, and then inverted into the frown of a man who knew he had lost. Curlin just kept coming, and it's too bad that we were not able to get a close-up look at Calvin Borel's face when he peeked behind and saw Curlin right at his flank, as I'm sure that would have been a classic as well.

Curlin overcame an early stumble, and was being hustled along by Robbie Alvarado down the backstretch. He was also widest of all around the turn, and didn't switch leads until midstretch. In overcoming those obstacles, he was clearly the best horse in the race. But the best horse doesn't always win, and I have to say that I, like reader Kevin, do wonder if Borel's peek behind may have cost him the race. Both rider and trainer said that the Derby winner seemed to lose concentration after getting the lead; but Gary Stevens said that the same might be said of Curlin once he swept around the two leaders on the turn.

So there is no taking away from Curlin's incredible effort. We rarely see a horse passed in the stretch so convincingly and come back to win. Borel said that when he made his move, Albarado was "riding already and I was sitting, so I thought he was finished." But the winning rider said that "he knew I had horse left." He may have been the only one in the track who felt that way! Albarado told the Washington Post: "He started out like a 2-year-old and finished like a 5-year-old."

As for some others, Donna Brothers noted that Velazquez warmed Circular Quay up hard, and she and Stevens speculated that he perhaps just wanted to make sure that the colt did not do exactly what he ended up doing - losing contact with the field. His was a disappointing effort again, and this time without a clear excuse. Hard Spun seemed to be doing the right thing early, sitting off the blistering first half of 45.75; but he and Mario Pino then proceeded to make a big middle move, getting to the lead in six furlongs of 1:09.80. Whether or not that was the horse's or the rider's choice, I think it essentially doomed his chances. Hard Spun is talented, but he just doesn't seem rateable.

Flying First Class finished dead last, and anyone who can read the Form PP's could have told you that based on his prior two turn tries against Curlin. When asked on NBC prior to the race whether the colt would shoot for the front, Lukas said no; that he would have something to say about the pace, but that he wouldn't get crazy. Yet, that's exactly what he did with predictable results (and did you really believe him anyway?). Let's hope that this colt is spotted better from this point on.

- As far as the Belmont goes, the result was another disappointment for NYRA, which is not having a very good spring. They'll be no Triple Crown for the third straight year, and likely no Derby winner either. When asked about the final jewel, Nafzger asked "What's the point?" [AP] But Curlin apparently will go if he's OK.

1 Comment:

alan said...

Sorry that the comments weren't enabled. I don't know why some posts have been defaulting to that, and I don't expect any help from Blogger support, so I'll have to keep an eye on that myself.

Green Mtn Punter says:

Further perspective on the Preakness time should be noted by acknowledging that Secretariat actually set the stakes record for the Preakness, as he did for the Derby and Belmont, an incredible feat. The Pimlico official timer was off that day, as I recall the story goes, and this fact was acknowledged by Pimlico officials. Daily Racing Form clockers caught Secretariat's Preakness time as the record time, and so did subsequent video replays. So, a Triple Crown winner setting track and stakes records in all 3 races, no wonder Secretariat is in a class by himself, and no wonder we continue to be disappointed in the Triple Crown series, Secretariat set the bar very high. Still, Curlin's Preakness effort was impressive, no doubt about it. Hope he goes in the Belmont- Street Sense will probably rest up for the Travers.

Green Mtn Punter