There’s a phrase trainers will sometimes use after their horse wins the Kentucky Derby. They’ll thank their lucky stars and note the horse “didn’t find a straw in his path.” Which means the trainer pointed for months at the Derby, and found that everything fell perfectly into place. Everything went right and nothing went wrong — not a straw in his path.
And that (cross your fingers for a few more days) is exactly how it has been for Street Sense, who will start as one of the top choices in the 133rd Run for the Roses Saturday at Churchill Downs.
You can ask trainer Carl Nafzger, or anybody in the Street Sense camp, and they’ll tell you that ever since the sleek son of Street Cry rallied from way back to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile going away last November at Churchill Downs, everything has gone just about according to plan — races, works, the whole thing — leading to Street Sense’s date with Derby destiny. The horse hasn’t found a straw in his path.
“Things have been perfect,” said Nafzger, who won the 1990 Derby with Unbridled, and handles Street Sense for Chicagoan James Tafel. “I love the way he’s doing.”
You could see that in the way Nafzger and jockey Calvin Borel clapped a big hand slap with each other the other morning as horse and rider came off the track after a swift work at the Downs. Everybody on board. Work done. Ready for the Derby, baby!
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean Street Sense will win.
A full field of 20 horses is expected for the Derby — and we rate one of them right there with Street Sense.
That’s Nobiz Like Shobiz.
Like Street Sense, Nobiz Like Shobiz was a tip-top two-year-old. Trainer Barclay Tagg, who won the 2003 Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide, plotted a three-prep path to the Derby, and Nobiz made all scheduled stops on time, including a victory in the Wood Memorial four weeks ago in New York. The horse should arrive in Louisville ready to go — having also found hardly a straw in his path.
The big thing with Nobiz Like Shobiz is that he runs near the lead, and has sometimes run “rank.” That’s where the horse is crazy to run, and fights the jock to go. Rider Cornelio Velasquez has been forced to grab some strong holds to measure out the horse’s speed. Ideally, you would need only a light touch.
But Tagg thinks the horse is getting the message. In the Wood, he equipped Nobiz with blinkers (cups around the horse’s eyes) to focus his vision ahead. He also stuffed cotton in the big bay’s ears.
“Cornelio took him back just enough and let him run when he was supposed to,” Tagg told Steve Haskin of The Blood-Horse magazine. “He didn’t gallop away by 10, but he had a pretty well-bred horse chasing him.”
Another milestone met.
“He’ll be fine now,” Tagg added. “There were some immaturity things happening to him, but he’ll get better each time. That little bit of cotton in his ears helps settle him a bit.”
Mrs. Elizabeth Valando, wife of the late Broadway music publisher Tommy Valando, owns Nobiz Like Shobiz. He was a founder of BMI and the publisher of the music from such Broadway shows as “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Cabaret.” Hence the name.
One big plus for Nobiz is his stamina pedigree. He is a son of young sire Albert the Great and a grandson of 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin, from a sire line tracing to the undefeated European champion Ribot. Nobiz boasts a stayer’s dosage profile of 4-3-12-2-1, with a dosage index of 1.44. He has numbers in every “aptitudinal” category, and is highest in the “Classic” middle category — “a certain sign of stamina,” according to dosage proponents.
In contrast to Nobiz, who can make his luck on the lead, Street Sense comes from behind. Jockey Borel may not get his “patented” rail path, along which he steered Street Sense in the Breeders’ Cup.
The scenario could be Street Sense is coming along, making his move, and Corey Nakatani, say, looks back over his shoulder and says, “Now, Calvin, you know we’re not going to just let you come up the rail in the Kentucky Derby.”
And Calvin might reply, “No, Corey. But thanks for moving over to the rail so I can fly by you on the outside. Goodbye.”
Street Sense ran second in the four-horse photo that decided the Blue Grass Stakes. The race looked almost like a training trip. Borel had his horse five-wide off the rail down the backstretch. In the homestretch, Street Sense was passing horses on the outside, but the rider had to pull on the right rein to keep him from “lugging in” toward the rail.
Maybe Street Sense learned something. He certainly has “manners.”
“He does what a good horse has got to do,” said Nafzger. “Be patient, relax and respond to the rider’s command.”
There are others who could win.
Tiago is interesting. He also descends from the Ribot line. (Dosage profile 3-12-12-2-3 = 1.91) His dam Set Them Free produced Giacomo, who won the 2005 Kentucky Derby. Owners Jerry and Ann Moss named Giacomo for A & M Records star Sting. For luck, they named Tiago for the son of Sergio Mendes, of Brazil 66 fame.
But being so inexperienced (just four races), Tiago is likely to regress off the Santa Anita Derby. Still, Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby at 50-1, and Tiago won the Santa Anita Derby at 30-1. I wouldn’t leave this horse out of the trifecta.
Then there’s the Florida Derby, whose winners have a terrific record in the Kentucky Derby, from Needles in 1956 to Barbaro last year. This year’s Florida Derby winner Scat Daddy is right on that schedule.
But as neat as his name might be, Scat Daddy’s also references his Storm Cat sire line. The Storm Cats make fabulous 2-year-olds but seem to fade as the distances lengthen. Someday — maybe when they shorten the Derby — one will probably win. Until then, we’ll pick against.
A better bet, pedigree wise, could be Circular Quay, who descends from the Raise a Native sire line that has almost ruled the Kentucky Derby over the past three decades. (Street Sense is also from the Raise a Native line.)
Longshots? The best longshots are horses without any logical reasons why. Any Given Saturday could be a hunch. Or the seemingly hopeless Liquidity. Maybe even old Sam P.
Oh, have we forgotten someone? What’s that you’re saying? We forgot Curlin?
Now, how in the world could we fail to mention the likely Derby favorite?
Curlin won his first start in February and was immediately purchased for $3.5 million as a Derby prospect. Off one race!
Shipped to Hot Springs, Ark., Curlin won the Rebel Stakes, then came right back at Oaklawn Park to ace the Arkansas Derby. Turning for home, anyone could see he would easily win by three or four lengths. Instead, Curlin took off like a rocket and won by 10 lengths — with jockey Robby Albarado merely coasting the horse home.
But don’t worry. Curlin won’t win the Kentucky Derby.
Oh, he could get an absolutely uncontested trip and simply fly away from his field. But we doubt it.
And that brings us back to Street Sense and Nobiz Like Shobiz.
The way we could see Nobiz Like Shobiz winning the Derby is he races forwardly, then gets home on his pedigree.
But Street Sense is so smoooooth, flying beneath the ancient Twin Spires.
Tough to decide.