06/17/2002 11:00PM

Older he gets, better he gets

Email

LAS VEGAS - Undefeated in two starts this year, Street Cry (by Machiavellian) has developed into an outstanding racehorse. His dramatic rise at age 4 underscores the adage that the majority of Thoroughbreds reach their peak after their 3-year-old year, and it is racing's loss that we rarely get to see horses compete at 4 and 5 anymore.

Street Cry showed promise at 2, but in the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes he couldn't quite get past Flame Thrower, who was precociously bred and had a distinct advantage as a juvenile. Street Cry finished a good third behind Macho Uno and Point Given in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and wintered in Dubai in preparation for a serious run at the Kentucky Derby. Street Cry was heading in the right direction and may have been a force in last year's Triple Crown, but had physical problems and did not return until October when he finished second in the Discovery Handicap.

Street Cry shed his bridesmaid image in his first start this year, in the Maktoum Challenge Round Three on Feb. 28 at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai, romping to an 8 1/2-length score over the older, multiple group winner State Shinto. Ridden by Jerry Bailey for the first time in the Dubai World Cup on March 23, Street Cry scored an emphatic 4 1/4-length victory over longshot Sei Mi and heavy favorite Sakhee. The combination of maturing into a magnificent physical specimen and overcoming former injuries makes Street Cry firmly the front-runner for Horse of the Year. And let's not be shy about it: In a dream match-up, even if he doesn't stumble, 3-year-old War Emblem would find 4-year-old Street Cry way too much horse at 1 1/4 miles in this year's Breeders' Cup.

Racing's rich history is full of examples of horses that were good at age 3, but were exceptional as mature runners. Gun Bow, Ack Ack, Forego, and Cigar are just a sample of horses that developed into world-beaters as older runners.

Best horse not to win a championship

Gun Bow may have been the sport's best runner never to have won a championship. Gun Bow developed into a stakes winner late in his 3-year-old year, winning the Narragansett Special Handicap by 13 lengths over a muddy track, and it was a portent of what was to come the following year.

Gun Bow burst onto the scene at age 4 in 1964, winning eight major races, including the Charles H. Strub Stakes, Whitney Stakes, Woodward Stakes, San Fernando Stakes, Brooklyn Handicap, Gulfstream Park Handicap, San Antonio Handicap, and Washington Handicap. Gun Bow had speed at 3, but was a monster at 4 and his victories were usually lopsided affairs. He won the Strub by 12 lengths, equaling Santa Anita's track record of 1:59.80 for 1 1/4 miles and also won the Brooklyn by 12 lengths, setting a track record for 1 1/4 miles of 1:59.60, over Olden Times and Sunrise Flight. Also defeated in the Brooklyn were Suburban Handicap winner Iron Peg and the mighty Kelso. Gun Bow also won the Whitney Stakes by 10 lengths over Mongo and Delta Judge, and missed equaling Saratoga's nine-furlong track record by .20 second.

His epic races against Kelso in the fall of 1964 are among the greatest rivalries in racing. Defeated by Kelso in the Aqueduct Stakes, Gun Bow scored a stirring nose victory over Kelso in the Woodward Stakes, which set up a rubber match in the Washington D.C. International. Gun Bow prepped for the year's ultimate showdown by finishing second to grass star Turbo Jet II in the Man o' War Stakes, while Kelso won the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup for the fifth consecutive year. After finishing second in the Washington D.C. International in 1961 (behind T.V. Lark), 1962 (behind Match II), and 1963 (behind Mongo), Kelso finally won that prestigious turf race over Gun Bow by 4 1/2 lengths, sealing his unprecedented fifth straight Horse of the Year honor.

Ack Ack

Ack Ack was the epitome of how horses can develop into something special if allowed to race at their peak. A member of the outstanding crop of 1966, which included champions Top Knight and Arts and Letters, as well as Majestic Prince, Reviewer, Viceregal, Dike, Mr. Leader, and Al Hattab, Ack Ack was a stakes winner at 3 and 4, but turned into a phenomenon at age 5, winning stakes from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, on dirt and turf. Ack Ack could do it all.

Ack Ack started out 1971 running second under 129 pounds to the very fast Jungle Savage in the Palos Verdes Handicap, run in 1:08.60. He won his next seven starts, including the Santa Anita Handicap (under 130 pounds) and the Hollywood Gold Cup Invitational Handicap (under 134). Had he not raced at age 5, it is unlikely Claiborne Farm would have been much interested in standing him as a stallion, where he went on to a productive career, siring, among others, Broad Brush.

Forego

Forego was still a developing project at 3, when he finished fourth in Secretariat's Kentucky Derby, and like Kelso, another gelding a decade earlier, he got better with age. While Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid are always mentioned among the great horses of the 1970's, Forego was right up there with all of them. If Forego had never raced beyond 3, racing would have never known one of its true heroes.

As good as they were at 3, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid were even better at 4. It's scary to think what Secretariat might have accomplished had he raced at 4.

And then there is Cigar. Stakes-placed on turf at 3, Cigar did not make an impact until late in his 4-year-old year, when he won the NYRA Mile. His exploits at 5 and 6 earned him back-to-back Horse of the Year honors.

So, let's enjoy the new and improved Street Cry. What a difference a year makes.