07/22/2007 11:00PM

The dream Travers: Street Sense vs. Curlin


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense arrived here Sunday morning and took up residence in Barn 6 on the Clare Court side of the main track. Preakness winner Curlin has been here for more than a week, and is housed in Barn 65 on the Oklahoma training track, a good mile or so away.

Whether they get any closer to each other than that during the next six weeks at Saratoga remains to be seen.

With Rags to Riches unlikely to run in the Travers, the next best scenario for racing fans would be a meeting between Street Sense and Curlin in the $1 million Travers, to be run here on Aug. 25. That is not certain to happen.

While Ian Wilkes, the assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger, said Monday that the Travers is definitely on Street Sense's agenda, Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Curlin, is focusing mainly on the Breeders' Cup Classic to be run Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park. The location of the Breeders' Cup is the primary reason Asmussen is focusing on the $1 million Haskell at Monmouth on Aug. 5 rather than the Jim Dandy or the Travers. Asmussen has not ruled out the Travers, however.

Besides the Haskell and Classic, the other race Asmussen would like to run Curlin in is the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 30.

"If there's a race between the Haskell and Jockey Club Gold Cup is the only thing that's debatable," Asmussen said. "I just want the proper preps for this horse to get to the Classic. With him it's simply beating everybody when it matters most. The goal for him is to be Horse of the Year."

Both Street Sense and Curlin are certainly in the Horse of the Year discussion. After Street Sense beat Curlin by eight lengths in the Derby, Curlin came back two weeks later to run down Street Sense by a head in the Preakness. It was the most thrilling Triple Crown race in years, at least until Rags to Riches won a stirring stretch duel by a head over Curlin to become the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes.

"I can't believe she held him off," Asmussen said.

Both Street Sense and Curlin got brief freshenings following the Triple Crown. If last week was any indication, both are hungering to launch into the second half of their 3-year-old campaigns.

Street Sense announced his readiness with a scary-good five-furlong work in 57.40 seconds on Thursday at Churchill Downs. Officially, Churchill clockers caught his last eighth of a mile in 10 seconds, though his connections realize that was probably incorrect.

Wilkes, who was at Churchill that morning, said he caught the final quarter of the move in 22.40 seconds with the last eighth in 11.20. Regardless, the work was an indication to Wilkes and the colt's regular jockey, Calvin Borel, of how well Street Sense is doing heading into the summer.

"We wanted a good work," Wilkes said. "He probably worked a little faster than I thought he would, but it's the way he did it. He did it easy, he wasn't stressed, he hasn't left any feed, so it didn't hurt him."

Borel, who was on the Saratoga backside Monday morning, said he feels a more powerful colt underneath him.

"He's gotten more aggressive," Borel said. "The way he finished up the other morning, he was more forward with me at the end. The colt's starting to mature now. He's starting to put everything together a lot more, believe me."

After the Preakness, Nafzger said that Street Sense's only problem was that he has a tendency to wait on horses. It won't be known until he gets into another stretch duel whether he's gotten over that.

"I think it's just maturity," Wilkes said. "You'll find they'll mature, and maturity will cure a lot of things. You'll learn more when you go back to the races."

Curlin came a long way in a short period of time, winning a maiden race on Feb. 3, then sweeping through the Rebel and Arkansas Derby before running third in the Kentucky Derby in his fourth lifetime start.

Following his victory in the Preakness and narrow loss in the Belmont, Curlin remained in light training before returning to the work tab on July 2. He worked twice at Churchill and fired a bullet five-furlong move at Saratoga on July 17. He was scheduled to work again on Tuesday.

"I still think he's easily recognizable," Asmussen said. "He is a big, strong, good-looking moving horse."

Asmussen believes running in the Haskell will pay dividends for Curlin in the Breeders' Cup.

"I've only had [one] chance to run him at the same track twice," Asmussen said. "His state of mind and knowing where he was was very obvious [in the Arkansas Derby]. That's why this race at Monmouth is invaluable. It's an opportunity I don't think we can pass up because of the importance of the Classic this year."