10/24/2007 11:00PM

One last run to settle Horse of Year

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. – He won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, then six months later became the first horse to parlay a win in that race to one in the Kentucky Derby. Since then, he has added the Travers Stakes to his resume. And on Saturday at Monmouth Park, Street Sense will try to go out a winner in his final start, the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, which would cap an unprecedented quartet of victories.

The mountain of accomplishments is mirrored by the ease in which Street Sense goes about his work. The other morning at Monmouth Park, trainer Carl Nafzger was surrounded by a thicket of press when one reporter began a question thus: "Have you ever had . . .?"

Nafzger politely interrupted him. "Now that I've had this horse, yes, I've had one like him," Nafzger said, meaning that Street Sense is truly one of a kind.

Street Sense will be trying to follow the prototypical Nafzger pattern of having a moderate performance in a prep race before a smashing effort in the main event. It happened for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and for the Derby. Before both of those races, Street Sense had his final prep on Polytrack.

If it worked ideally twice, Nafzger was not about to switch for the Classic. Street Sense comes into the 1 1/4-mile Classic off a second-place finish in the Kentucky Cup Classic, on Polytrack. Since then, he has been trained aggressively. This is it.

"I'm looking for this to be his last, and his all-time best," Nafzger said.

Street Sense will need his all-time best. This Classic field – with stars like Any Given Saturday, Curlin, George Washington, Hard Spun, Lawyer Ron, and Tiago – is one of the best in the 24-year history of the Breeders' Cup, befitting a race that should decide the 2007 Horse of the Year.

Street Sense, who never has raced at Monmouth, starts from post 2. He is surrounded by a tag team from trainer Todd Pletcher. Mr. Inside is Lawyer Ron, the best older horse in the country. Mr. Outside is Any Given Saturday, the winner of the Haskell Invitational here this summer.

Lawyer Ron, the winner of the Whitney and Woodward, figures to be on or near the early lead, along with Hard Spun, who starts from post 8. Lawyer Ron was second to Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, and was second in the Salvator Mile in his only previous start on this track. With his rail draw, and Hard Spun to his outside, Lawyer Ron will have to cooperate with jockey John Velazquez. He has a tendency to pull aggressively early, which could be a detriment against this stellar field. To guard against that, Lawyer Ron will not be throttled down like he was in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

"There's a fine line between wrestling him and letting him do too much," Pletcher said. "I'm not saying I want him on the lead. I want him to settle, and I think the best way for him to settle is to let him run a little bit the first part."

Any Given Saturday defeated Hard Spun and Curlin in the Haskell, which makes Any Given Saturday the only horse in the Classic with a win at Monmouth. He had an easy prep against a soft group of older horses in the Brooklyn Handicap on Sept. 22.

"I'd have been more upset if he'd have won by 15 than what he did," Pletcher said of his 2 1/2-length victory over the unheralded Tasteyville.

Curlin did not run his best race in the Haskell, which was his first start since running in all three legs of the Triple Crown. But he came back to beat Lawyer Ron in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Trainer Steve Asmussen is not sure if Curlin was still showing the effects of the Triple Crown in the Haskell, or if he did not care for Monmouth as much as other places at which he has raced.

"It's a huge concern that for whatever reason he ran less than his best race in the Haskell," Asmussen said. "Nothing against Monmouth, but if they wanted to move this to Belmont, I wouldn't object."

Hard Spun is the likely pacesetter. In his only other try at 1 1/4 miles, he was second in the Derby after leading for the first 1 1/8 miles.

Tiago was seventh in the Derby and third in the Belmont, but since then has won the Swaps and the Goodwood. Asked how much better Tiago is now than at the Derby, his trainer, John Shirreffs, said, "There's no comparison."

George Washington, an outstanding turf horse based in Europe, was sixth in last year's Classic at Churchill Downs in his lone previous try on dirt. He seemed in better form last year before heading here.

Awesome Gem lost a nose decision to Tiago in the Goodwood, which followed runner-up finishes in the Pacific Classic and San Diego Handicap. His closing style might be compromised on this track, especially if the pace comes up moderate.

Diamond Stripes won the Meadowlands Cup after finishing a distant third to Lawyer Ron in the Whitney and the Woodward.


BRAD FREE ANALYSIS

CURLIN is a pretty good horse. He won the Preakness, the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup last time against older, and is making only his third start since spring. He may have one more forward move. Is that possible? HARD SPUN will try to wire the field, and this race did not come up with much speed. If he gets loose, look out. If it turns out the U.S. handicap ranks are overrated, European GEORGE WASHINGTON could upset. The Group 1 winner has had a light 2007 campaign, and might be fresher than when he tried this race last year. STREET SENSE has been less spectacular away from Churchill Downs; ANY GIVEN SATURDAY has never been better. LAWYER RON was a monster at Saratoga – this race is at Monmouth. The Californians appear overmatched, though TIAGO has been a picture of health this week and may be sitting on the race of his career.

STEVE KLEIN ANALYSIS

ANY GIVEN SATURDAY ran a career-best race when he won the Haskell here two races ago, in his first start on this track. He tuned up for this race with a win in the Grade 2 Brooklyn, and should be ready to move forward today. LAWYER RON shows just one previous race on this track, and it was less than impressive. He settled for second as the 1-10 favorite in the Salvator Mile that day, then ran three consecutive races at Saratoga and Belmont that netted him the three highest Beyers he has earned from his 25 career starts. CURLIN edged Lawyer Ron at Belmont last time in his return, but it is interesting to note that he settled for third behind ANY GIVEN SATURDAY and HARD SPUN in his lone previous race here.

DAVE LITFIN ANALYSIS

TIAGO was beaten two lengths for third in the Kentucky Derby while making just his fifth start, and turned a corner in the Swaps when he came through narrow opening on the rail to kick clear; he is primed to run the race of his life at a big price, after slightly surpassing his previous Beyer top in the Goodwood. LAWYER RON was against the grain of a strong speed bias when he ran out of ground in the Salvator Mile at Monmouth, then stepped into another dimension with three giant races that raise the possibility of his being over the top. He faces a similar predicament as in the Woodward when he was deftly guided off the rail to stalk, and the big key is whether he can relax sitting just off HARD SPUN. STREET SENSE would love to see Lawyer Ron go after Hard Spun early and get into a fight; he is at his most explosive at Churchill Downs, however, and worked harder than expected to win the Travers over an unheralded rival who returned to disappoint in the Super Derby.

MIKE WATCHMAKER ANALYSIS

CURLIN ran his best race yet winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and did so off a layoff. His dull third two starts back in the Haskell was, I believe, more attributable to him feeling the effects of having run in all three legs of the Triple Crown, rather than any dislike for Monmouth or inability to handle the turns. He should get enough pace to make his late run count. LAWYER RON was edged by the pick in the Gold Cup, but should like stretching back out to two full turns. The fear is that he might get involved in a prolonged battle trying to get by projected pacesetter HARD SPUN. ANY GIVEN SATURDAY ran huge when he won the Haskell, and the belief is he'll perform more like that than his less impressive effort winning the Brooklyn. STREET SENSE must be respected, but I still think he hasn't been as impressive away from Churchill Downs.