08/25/2007 12:00AM

Street Sense wins Travers stretch duel

Deborah Kral/Horsephotos
Jockey Calvin Borel keeps his eye on Grasshopper to his inside as he and Street Sense post a half-length win in Saturday's Travers after a long, hard stretch battle.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - As Street Sense crept up alongside Grasshopper approaching the quarter pole of Saturday's $1 million Travers, the crowd of 38,909 at steamy Saratoga was gearing up for an impressive stretch run from the Kentucky Derby winner.

The crowd - and Street Sense - got more than they bargained for. But in the end, they got exactly what they came to see.

With Calvin Borel urging his horse with the left-handed whip, Street Sense edged away from a stubborn Grasshopper in deep stretch to win the $1 million Travers Stakes by a half-length. Grasshopper, making his stakes debut, finished second, 10 1/4 lengths ahead of Helsinki, who necked out Sightseeing for third.

C P West finished fifth and was followed by Loose Leaf and For You Reppo.

The victory, though harder than most imagined it would be, capped off a spectacular summer for trainer Carl Nafzger and jockey Calvin Borel. Just last week, they teamed up to win the Grade 1 Alabama with Lady Joanne. Nafzger, who turns 66 on Wednesday, became the just the fifth trainer since 1901 to win the Alabama and Travers in the same year. He won four races at the meet from five starters, all four wins coming in stakes.

Borel, who normally takes the summer off, won his ninth race of the meeting, and his third Grade 1 stakes. He also won the Alabama and the Sword Dancer. This was his first Travers ride.

Street Sense, last year's 2-year-old champion, added the Travers to a 3-year-old resume that includes wins in the Kentucky Derby, Jim Dandy, and Tampa Bay Derby. He became the third straight Jim Dandy winner to take the Travers and the eighth to pull off the Jim Dandy/Travers double since 1969. Street Sense was the first Kentucky Derby winner to run in the Travers since Thunder Gulch won both races in 1995.

As the only multiple graded stakes winner in the field, Street Sense was sent off a heavy 1-4 favorite. The next shortest price was Sightseeing, the Peter Pan winner, who was sent off at 9-2.

C P West, who finished second to Street Sense in the Jim Dandy, broke on top, but it was Grasshopper, under Robby Albarado, who forged to the lead entering the first turn. Grasshopper ran a half-mile in 48.18 seconds and three-quarters in 1:12.42 while Street Sense raced with 1 1/2 lengths of the lead while on the outside of Loose Leaf.

"When I saw where he was and the pace was setting up slow, I knew Calvin had him out where he had to be," Nafzger said. "That's one of Calvin's fortes; he can read a pace good."

Borel sent Street Sense after Grasshopper at the quarter pole and the two hooked up for a thrilling stretch battle. Borel went to a vigorous left-handed whip at the eighth pole and Street Sense edged away inside the sixteenth pole. Street Sense, a son of Street Cry owned and bred by Jim Tafel, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.69 over a fast track and returned $2.70 to win.

Borel said he didn't want to make the lead too soon, fearing Street Sense might get to loafing as he suspects he did when Curlin beat him by a head in the Preakness.

"When Curlin beat me I didn't have nothing to run at," Borel said. "Really and truly I was riding him, but at the same time I was trying to keep [Grasshopper] there as a target at all times till the last three or four jumps. Then when I hit him left-handed, he ran away from them like I expected him to do."

Nafzger said Street Sense would soon ship back to Louisville and target the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27. Nafzger mentioned four possible races as preps - the Massachusetts Handicap on Sept. 22; the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park or the Hawthorne Gold Cup on Sept. 29; or the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Sept. 30.

As happy as the connections of Street Sense were to get the win, the connections of Grasshopper were equally thrilled to be second. Owner Will Farish and trainer Neil Howard were stepping out of character by having a horse make his stakes debut in the Travers.

"We knew this was a good horse, and today he more than showed it," Farish said. "To have run this way against Street Sense is just phenomenal."