04/09/2007 11:00PM

Nafzger's plan down to its last details


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The winter did not start off all that well for Street Sense and trainer Carl Nafzger. When they first arrived at the Palm Meadows training facility in Florida, Nafzger sensed his colt needed a little more time to recover from his championship 2-year-old campaign. He backed off on Street Sense's training, not wanting to force the issue. Since picking up the pace, though, Street Sense has consistently moved forward.

Street Sense's workouts in Florida in the weeks leading up to the Tampa Bay Derby received rave reviews. He won the Tampa Bay Derby off a four-month layoff, while facing a primary rival, in Any Given Saturday, who already had a victory over the track. And on Tuesday morning here at Churchill Downs, Street Sense finished up his preparation for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland with a workout that was vintage Nafzger.

Few trainers are as skilled as Nafzger when it comes to pointing a horse for a specific race. Charlie Whittingham was acknowledged as the best; his protege Neil Drysdale has followed in kind. Nafzger has a similar approach. He will circle the main race, then work backwards from there, always cognizant of leaving something extra for the final goal months away.

Nafzger did it in 1990 with Unbridled, who won the Florida Derby, finished third in the Blue Grass, then came roaring back to capture the Kentucky Derby. He did it last fall with Street Sense, who was third in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland before his breakout performance in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. His training of Street Sense on Tuesday indicates Nafzger might be taking something off the fastball this week.

Street Sense, with regular jockey Calvin Borel aboard, loped along when first starting his breeze. He went away from the five-furlong pole in a high gallop, and remained that way to the turn. Midway around the turn, another horse came within about five lengths of Street Sense, and he accelerated enough to maintain a comfortable margin.

In the stretch, Borel had a snug hold on Street Sense, but the colt began to display the finishing kick that carried him to victory here last fall in the Breeders' Cup. Street Sense flew through the final furlong of his drill, then went out another furlong with similar alacrity. Trainer Ian Wilkes, who has worked alongside Nafzger for nearly two decades, caught Street Sense's final quarter-mile in 23.60 seconds, and the gallop out in another 11.40. The final time of the work on the fast main track was a pedestrian 1:04, the 38th best of 39 at the distance on Tuesday. But the raw time hardly told the tale.

"He went beautiful. Nice and easy," Borel said. "He galloped out another eighth super. I squeezed on him about the eighth pole, and from there to an eighth past the wire he was begging for more."

The work was not about getting fit. It also came the day after a seriously strong gallop with exercise rider Mark Cutler in which Street Sense clicked along at about a two-minute clip for one mile.

"If he's not fit now, he's not fit," Nafzger said.

Tuesday's work, instead, was designed to take some of the edge off a colt who was fresh and eager on Monday morning, while re-emphasizing what Nafzger has taught Street Sense throughout, to relax and finish.

"I want him to be patient, relax, and respond to the rider's commands," Nafzger said.

Only a handful of horses were expected to be entered against Street Sense on Wednesday for the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass, including Dominican, Great Hunter, Teuflesberg, and Zanjero. Belgravia, who worked five furlongs in 1:02.20 on Tuesday at Keeneland for trainer Patrick Biancone, will await the Grade 2, $325,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 21.

The Blue Grass is a major race in and of itself, but for a horse who already has an Eclipse Award and a Grade 1 win, it truly is a prep race. For Nafzger, it's part of a continuum that began three months ago.

"About two weeks after we got to Florida, I kept watching him, Ian kept watching him, and while he wasn't doing anything wrong, he just wasn't himself," Nafzger said. "He needed a break. We just didn't give him long enough initially. The best thing we ever did was stop. He just grew up and matured. He just scoped out. All of a sudden he was a man. He was no longer a young kid.

"Since then, he's done really good. He's stepped forward for his works, stepped forward for his race, and stepped forward for his works after that. He's doing what he did last fall. He's still got some big steps to take. I've got fitness now. I just need a good, solid race."