05/18/2007 11:00PM

Round 2 has same top three

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Street Sense is the 7-5 favorite on the morning lines set by both Frank Carulli of Pimlico and Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper.

BALTIMORE, Md. - Two weeks ago, the queen came to the Kentucky Derby. This week, the king is at the Preakness Stakes.

"I feel like the king of the mountain," Carl Nafzger, the trainer of Derby winner Street Sense, said outside the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course the other morning.

Nafzger said it's good to be the king. "I hope I still am after Saturday," he said.

The Derby was the race Nafzger coveted. The Triple Crown express, however, doesn't stop at the first town. The Derby winner gets carried along to the Preakness, and should Street Sense win here Saturday, he will head for a coronation at the Belmont Stakes three weeks later in New York. According to Nafzger, he did not look past the Derby until an hour after that race was completed May 5 at Churchill Downs.

"The left half of my brain had the six months from the Breeders' Cup to the Derby," Nafzger said. "The right half of my brain had the plan after the Derby. It was a blank white sheet of paper."

Nafzger says this with a very sincere face, which either makes him earnestly single-minded, or someone you absolutely don't want to play poker against. A few people casually talking to and joking with him the other afternoon, including NBC Sports analyst Donna Brothers, tried to call Nafzger's bluff, but the facade never cracked.

"Look, the horse takes you where you're going," Nafzger said. "You can't get ahead of yourself. It's like playing for the Super Bowl. You can't look past the playoff games. One step at a time."

The next step for Nafzger and Street Sense comes on Saturday in the 132nd Preakness, which drew a field of nine, including the first three finishers from the Derby - Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Curlin. They will race 1 3/16 miles, the shortest distance among the Triple Crown races, for a $1 million purse.

Because he is the Derby winner and is trying to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, Street Sense will be the focal point of the race. He is the 7-5 favorite on the morning lines set by both Frank Carulli of Pimlico and Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper.

A crowd of more than 100,000 is expected to head to Pimlico, but they may have to dodge raindrops. The forecast has deteriorated as the week has progressed. The Weather Channel's forecast for Saturday is for a high temperature of 66 degrees, with a 60-percent chance of rain. There was a 30-percent chance of rain predicted for Friday.

The Preakness is the 12th race on a marathon 13-race card that is nearly nine hours from start to finish, the longest day in American racing. First post is at 10:30 a.m. Eastern, and the last race is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. The Preakness has a scheduled post time of 6:15 p.m. It will be shown live by NBC on a show beginning at 5 p.m.

Those trying to beat Street Sense, be it bettors or rival trainers and jockeys, will be hoping Street Sense is not as effective here as he is at Churchill Downs, where he is based and where he scored his two biggest victories, the Derby and last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"I think what everyone else has to hope for is Street Sense doesn't run as well as he did two weeks ago, and we've got to hope he's not as good at Pimlico as he is at Churchill," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will send out both Circular Quay and King of the Roxy. "If he's the same Street Sense that we've seen at Churchill in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby, then everybody else is running for second. If he's a little bit vulnerable back in two weeks and not as good at Pimlico as he is at Churchill, then the rest of us have a chance."

Street Sense has shown he does not have a one-track mind. He also has won races at both Arlington Park and Tampa Bay Downs. He is 3ofor 3 in two-turn races on conventional dirt surfaces. And since Nafzger added run-down bandages to his front legs last fall, Street Sense is a nose away from having won four straight races.

"I wish I was as smart as this horse makes me look," Nafzger said.

Hard Spun, trained by Larry Jones, set the pace in the Derby and looms a front-running factor again. But with the speedy Xchanger and Flying First Class drawn inside him, Hard Spun may be forced into a stalking trip, the kind he used to win the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March 24.

"Wayne's horse," Jones said, referring to D. Wayne Lukas-trained Flying First Class, "is very fast. I do expect a different pace scenario."

Hard Spun is ridden by Mario Pino, the winningest jockey all-time at Pimlico. Much as Calvin Borel, the jockey of Street Sense, may have had the home-field advantage at Churchill Downs, Jones is hoping Pino can make a difference here.

"We're going to Pino country," Jones said.

Curlin entered the Derby with just three starts and without having raced at age 2, factors that have lengthy Derby droughts. Although he suffered his first loss in the Derby, he lost position early but still persevered to rally for third, beating 17 others. His boosters believe there is plenty of upside.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there is still a large contingent of people in the sport - and the media - who believe Pimlico has tight turns and therefore is speed-favoring. Randy Moss, on the ESPN2 draw telecast Wednesday night, accurately called it "the myth that won't die." In the past 25 years, only two horses have led the Preakness from start to finish. Those who think speed horses will do well may be inclined to back Derby Trial winner Flying First Class, who finished sixth and eighth in his only two-turn races on conventional dirt surfaces, or Xchanger, who won his lone start at Pimlico.

Flying First Class and Xchanger are two of five horses in the race who skipped the Derby. They are trying to emulate Bernardini, who won last year's Preakness after bypassing the Derby.

Pletcher will try to hit them early with King of the Roxy, who figures to get a stalking trip from post 5, and late with Circular Quay, who usually lags at the back of the pack. Pletcher is 0 for 26 in Triple Crown races, but has usually avoided the Preakness He has had only one starter in the race, Impeachment, who finished third in 2000 at 19-1.

C P West, trained by Nick Zito, has won once in five starts and has finished second in three of his last four races. He was sixth of 14 in his only two-turn race.

Mint Slewlep owns two wins at Laurel in his seven-race career. He was fourth, 1 3/4 lengths behind runner-up C P West, in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on April 28.

- additional reporting by David Grening