10/25/2006 11:00PM

Street Sense exemplifies Nafzger program

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Carl Nafzger became famous at the 1990 Kentucky Derby, not merely for training the winner of the race, but for having ABC-Sports capture his sweet, heartfelt interaction with elderly owner Frances Genter as Unbridled charged to the finish. Listen closely to his words, and it is a window into Nafzger's soul.

"Mrs. Genter, you just won the Kentucky Derby," he said. "You" - not "I," nor "we" - but "you." Nafzger had won it, too, but the ego was suppressed. He took far more joy in seeing a dream come true for a longtime client.

Fast forward 16 years - has it actually been that long? - and Nafzger, 65, is still acting like Santa Claus. In the past year, he has seamlessly turned over most of his horses to trainer Ian Wilkes, his longtime assistant. Yet Nafzger still has about 15 horses training in his name for clients Bentley Smith - the late Genter's son-in-law - and Jim Tafel, both of whom have been with Nafzger for more than 20 years.

He could bring joy to the world of Tafel on Nov. 4, when the Breeders' Cup is held here at Churchill Downs. Nafzger trains the Tafel homebred Street Sense, who looks like a live longshot in the $2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile.

Street Sense has finished in the money in all four of his starts. He most recently was third behind top Juvenile contenders Great Hunter and Circular Quay in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. And on a cold, drizzly morning at Churchill Downs - a day that felt like being at the North Pole - Street Sense turned in a sharp workout under his regular rider, Calvin Borel.

Street Sense was given an official time of 1:01.20 for five furlongs. Daily Racing Form caught him breaking off at the six-furlong pole and going the distance in 1:14.48, with a final quarter-mile in 23.06 seconds while under no encouragement from Borel. He galloped out well, too.

"I'm very happy with the work," Nafzger said. "Everything's a go. He finished strong."

Nafzger has his horses in Barn 26, which he shares with Wilkes. They keep as many as 60 horses there and at the nearby Skylight Training Center. The Churchill barn office is adorned with the requisite photos of major race wins, but also candid snapshots of the Nafzgers - Carl and his wife, Wanda - and the Wilkeses - Ian, his wife, Tracy, and their two children.

The Wilkeses are natives of Australia who have been associated with the Nafzgers for 16 years, since when Ian was the exercise rider for Unbridled. They are closer than most natural families.

"They're an extended family," Wanda Nafzger said.

The barn is populated by grooms who have been with Nafzger for more than a decade.

"It's been a lot of fun to watch it grow," Nafzger said.

That loyalty cuts both ways. Tafel has had horses with Nafzger since 1985. Their best runner was Banshee Breeze, who won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly in 1998 and who finished second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff in both 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."

Nafzger still trains, but in recent years - as Wilkes was given more responsibility - he has become far more involved in long-term planning and management of his client's horses.

"We work well together. I enjoy managing," Nafzger said. "I like building programs for owners. I have owners who invest nice money in breeding. When you're managing a program, winning races is not as important as winning the right races. You're dealing with mares and yearlings."

Street Sense is a perfect example. Tafel bred the colt by sending his mare Bedazzle to the sire Street Cry. He still has the mare and her subsequent offspring, so a good performance by Street Sense is worth plenty in residual value on top of the cold, hard cash of a race's purse.

Street Sense was second in his debut at Churchill Downs, beat maidens at Arlington, then was third in both the Arlington-Washington Futurity and the Breeders' Futurity. Based on his pedigree and his large, lanky frame, he only figures to get better with age and more distance.

"Hopefully this colt will go on," Nafzger said. "He's already done enough to help that family."