01/26/2007 12:00AM

Street Sense could take owner to top

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The victory by Street Sense in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile brought him the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male and capped a patient, prudent plan by trainer Carl Nafzger to gradually bring the colt along for a top performance when it mattered most. But the seeds of that victory were sown more than 20 years ago, when Nafzger first started training for Jim Tafel, who bred and owns Street Sense.

Relationships between trainers and owners often come and go, but Nafzger has nurtured both Tafel and Bentley Smith - the son-in-law of the late Frances Genter - through the highs and lows of the sport for more than two decades. They have had plenty of highs. For Smith and Genter, it was the ultimate - a victory in the Kentucky Derby with Unbridled in 1990.

Now, Nafzger has a chance to head down the same path with Tafel. Street Sense put them there with his overpowering performance in the Juvenile, which came six months before the Derby over the same Churchill Downs track.

The best runner with whom Nafzger and Tafel previously combined was Banshee Breeze, who was the champion 3-year-old filly in 1998 and was second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff in 1998 and 1999.

"I've had some good horses, and some great owners," Nafzger said. "I can afford wing tips now, but I think I'll stick with people who liked me when I had loafers."

Street Sense is by Street Cry and the Dixieland Band mare Bedazzle. He made his debut in July, finishing second in a maiden race going six furlongs. From that point, he raced once a month at gradually increasing distances as Nafzger built the foundation for the Breeders' Cup.

"Look at the steps - six furlongs, 6 1/2 furlongs, a mile, two turns at Keeneland," Nafzger said. "The fifth step was the Breeders' Cup. That was our plan, if he took us there."

Street Sense defeated maidens at Arlington Park in August, went back there in September and finished third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, then was third in October in the Breeders' Futurity, a race in which he had the lead at midstretch.

Nafzger thought Street Sense was making the proper steps forward. In his penultimate work for the Breeders' Cup, Street Sense flew through his final quarter-mile in 23.06 seconds. He was sitting on go.

His race in the Breeders' Cup was breathtaking. Street Sense, breaking from the rail, early on dropped back to 13th in the 14-horse field. Jockey Calvin Borel, who rode Street Sense in every race last year, hugged the rail on the final turn as Street Sense began his powerful move. He shot through a hole, opened a commanding lead by midstretch, and was so far in front at the end that Borel took him in hand and eased him across the wire.

"I think he could have gone around the whole field," Borel said. "That's how confident I was."

Street Sense won by 10 lengths, a record margin in the Juvenile and the second-biggest in Breeders' Cup history behind the 13 1/2-length margin by Inside Information in the 1995 Distaff.

Street Sense is wintering at Palm Meadows in Florida, preparing for his 3-year-old campaign. As usual, Nafzger has a long-term goal.

As he said after the Breeders' Cup: "This was our prep for the Kentucky Derby in 2007."

If Street Sense can win that race, he will become the first winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to also capture the Derby.

* VOTING: Street Sense, 229; Circular Quay, 13; Tiz Wonderful, 11; Nobiz Like Shobiz, 9; Scat Daddy, 5; Great Hunter, 2; Day Pass, 1; Stormello, 1. No abstentions.