08/23/2007 12:00AM

Primary objective within grasp

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Joseph DiOrio/Horsephotos
Street Sense and his rider, Calvin Borel, won the Jim Dandy last out. They aim for a rare Kentucky Derby-Travers double on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Recreationally, trainer Carl Nafzger fancies himself a pretty adept fly fisherman. Professionally, Nafzger, who turns 66 on Wednesday, has proven to be an exceptional big-game hunter.

When equipped with the proper ammunition, Nafzger has targeted and netted some of the biggest prizes in Thoroughbred racing, including two Kentucky Derbies, two Alabamas, and two Breeders' Cups. Saturday, Nafzger looks well armed to win his second Travers trophy when he sends out Street Sense against six seemingly overmatched 3-year-olds.

The Travers, being run for the 138th time, is the marquee event on a 12-race Saratoga card that begins at 12:45 p.m. and includes three other graded stakes. The Travers, King's Bishop, Bernard Baruch, and Victory Ride comprise a pick four wager with a $1 million guaranteed pool. The Travers is also the final leg of a grand slam wager that has a guaranteed pool of $100,000. The Travers, King's Bishop, and Bernard Baruch will all be televised live on ESPN during a two-hour broadcast that begins at 4 p.m. Eastern.

Street Sense is the first Kentucky Derby winner to run in the Travers since 1995, when Thunder Gulch won both races. Street Sense, a son of Street Cry, will seek to become just the 10th Derby winner also to capture the Travers. Moreover, Nafzger will look to become just the fifth trainer since 1901 to win both the Alabama and Travers in the same year, the first since LeRoy Jolley did it in 1976.

Much in the way he targeted last Saturday's Alabama for Lady Joanne back in the spring, Nafzger and owner Jim Tafel have had the Travers circled in big red ink on their calendars since they decided to skip the Belmont Stakes in June.

"Without putting down any other races, the two most prestigious races in America are the Kentucky Derby and the Travers," said the 83-year-old Tafel, who teamed with Nafzger to win this race in 2000 with Unshaded.

"If you had a choice to win the Belmont and Travers, which one would you take?" Nafzger asked following Wednesday's post draw.

To get to the Travers, Nafzger used last month's Jim Dandy, in which Street Sense defeated C P West and Sightseeing, two of his opponents on Saturday. It wasn't the most dominant performance Street Sense has turned in, but it certainly should serve as a springboard to an improved effort on Saturday.

"He should improve three to five lengths off of that race, like any horse that's coming back should improve after his first race," Nafzger said. "He's more focused, he's more there."

If Street Sense improves three to five lengths off the Jim Dandy, his six rivals will have to improve by double that to pull the upset.

If there is to be an upset at this historic course, dubbed the Graveyard of Favorites, Sightseeing is the most likely candidate to pull it off. Much like Nafzger has targeted this race for Street Sense, trainer Shug McGaughey has made this the major objective for Sightseeing since he finished second in April's Wood Memorial.

Sightseeing, a son of Pulpit, is the only other graded stakes winner in the field, having taken the Peter Pan in May. He has shown a preference for two turns and is coming off a third-place finish in the Jim Dandy, where he was beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Street Sense. The Jim Dandy was run at 1 1/8 miles, whereas the Travers is run 1 1/4 miles.

"I got a feeling I'm going to have to improve more than 2 1/4 lengths, because Street Sense is going to improve too," said McGaughey, who has won the Travers three times. "I got to hope we've improved and that we caught up to this bunch, and that the extra eighth of a mile is going to help us."

Trainer Nick Zito is hoping the 1 1/4 miles isn't too far for C P West, who ran an excellent second in the Jim Dandy. After breaking sharply, C P West raced close to the pace and was a stubborn foe for Street Sense until the final sixteenth.

Zito, who won the 2004 Travers with Birdstone, is hoping C P West can get an easier lead in the Travers and have enough left to hold off the late kick of Street Sense. C P West does pick up 11 pounds off his Jim Dandy performance, while Street Sense picks up just three.

"The whole thing is if he can go that mile and a quarter forwardly placed," said Zito, who will also send out the longshot closer Helsinki. "I know he can go a mile and an eighth. It's just a question mark if he can get away at some point in the race."

The horse most likely to keep C P West honest up front is Grasshopper, who looked very good winning a second-level allowance race here on July 30.

"These are the kind of races you don't want to get too far back," said Neil Howard, trainer of Grasshopper. "Whatever you do when you get to the middle of the turn, you know those yellow and blue silks [of Street Sense] are going to be coming. It's just going to be a matter of who can match strides with Street Sense and who can't."

Like Grasshopper, Loose Leaf has won a 1 1/8-mile race over Saratoga's main track. He came from well off the pace to take a minor stakes.

"I think he's sure going to have to run the race of his life, but he's doing as well I've ever seen," said Ken McPeek, the trainer of Loose Leaf.

For You Reppo, a winner of 1 of 5 starts, completes the field.