05/17/2007 12:00AM

Top two draw side by side in Preakness

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
A two-furlong blowout in the morning took little out of Hard Spun, arriving at Pimlico Wednesday afternoon.

BALTIMORE, Md. - Street Sense and Hard Spun, side by side in the gate at the Kentucky Derby and the one-two finishers in that race two weeks ago at Churchill Downs, will line up next to one another again on Saturday in the 132nd Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

Street Sense, who won the Derby, got post 8 and Hard Spun post 7 when posts were drawn on Wednesday for the $1 million Preakness, at 1 3/16 miles the shortest of the Triple Crown races. Nine were entered in the Preakness, less than half the herd that went postward in the Derby, in which Street Sense had post 7, and Hard Spun post 8.

"It was a good number for the Derby," said Larry Jones, the trainer of Hard Spun. "Hopefully it will be for the Preakness."

Frank Carulli, who makes the morning line at Pimlico, installed Street Sense as the 7-5 favorite, with Hard Spun at 5-2 and Curlin, the third-place finisher in the Derby, at 7-2. Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, also has Street Sense at 7-5, with Hard Spun at 7-2 and Curlin at 4-1.

"That's okay," Carl Nafzger, the trainer of Street Sense, said of being the morning-line favorite. "I earned it. Or, I should say Street Sense earned it."

Those first three finishers from the Derby, along with Circular Quay, all will be coming back on just two weeks' rest. It likely will be the only time in their lives they have such a quick turnaround. But Jones said he likes the tradition of the Triple Crown, even though no horse has swept all three races since Affirmed in 1978.

"It's set up to test them," Jones said. "When Secretariat won it in 1973, it hadn't been won since Citation in 1948, and people were starting to say it was too hard. Then three horses won it in the 1970s, and they were saying it's too easy. That's what the Triple Crown is for, to have true champions. Hopefully this won't be like Affirmed and Alydar. Hopefully it's like Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, and we can win at least one."

Street Sense arrived at Pimlico shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday following the second of two flights that brought horses from Churchill Downs to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He was taken off a van just as the front end of a storm began to arrive in the area. With rain starting to fall, thunder crackling, and lightning flashing in the distance, Nafzger grew anxious as several vans unloaded their horses before the van carrying Street Sense could get to the ramp.

"It's like Texas weather," Nafzger said. "We're going to get a hell of a rain."

About 20 minutes later, a fierce downpour rolled through Pimlico.

Led by exercise rider Mark Cutler, Street Sense came off his van looking just a bit warm, understandable considering he had to wait approximately 20 minutes on an idling van. He went to the stakes barn, where Curlin and Hard Spun arrived earlier in the day.

Once Street Sense was in his stall, a relieved Nafzger dashed off to the post draw, which was held downtown at the ESPN Zone.

"He was taking it a lot better in his stall than I was," Nafzger said.

Nafzger and his wife, Wanda, drove to Baltimore from Louisville. They left Tuesday night and arrived Wednesday afternoon.

"I love to drive," Nafzger said. "My Lexus has 85,000 miles on it, and it's a year and a half old. I like that Steinbeck book 'Travels with Charley,' the life of the highway, going town to town."

Hard Spun, the Derby runner-up, arrived by van at Pimlico at 1:35 p.m. after a trip down

I-95 from Delaware Park. Earlier in the morning, Hard Spun blew out a quarter-mile through the stretch at Delaware under jockey Mario Pino. Jones said a clocker caught Hard Spun in "24 and change."

"We just let him stretch his legs down the lane a little," Jones said. "He was nice and comfortable. Yesterday, he was not paying attention to me. We just needed to do a little something to change his routine, let him know something's up."

Curlin and Flying First Class, the winner of the Derby Trial, were on the first flight of horses that came from Louisville. After a short van ride from the airport, they arrived at Pimlico at 10:40 a.m.

Curlin looked particularly striking. He suffered his first loss in the Derby after three previous victories.

"He's doing great," said Scott Blasi, the top assistant to Curlin's trainer, Steve Asmussen. "His attitude was good. He's very mature beyond his experience."

D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer of Flying First Class, led his colt off the van to the delight of the assembled photographers. Lukas, who has won the Preakness five times, said he enjoys coming to Pimlico.

"They embrace you here," he said. "At Churchill Downs they tolerate you. And at Belmont, they don't give a [expletive]."

Only four Preakness entrants are coming out of the Derby, including Circular Quay, who finished sixth. Five of the Preakness runners, including Flying First Class, bypassed the Derby.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, still seeking his first victory in a Triple Crown race, entered both Circular Quay and King of the Roxy, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up. King of the Roxy had been pointed to this race since the Santa Anita Derby, but Circular Quay was added to the field earlier this week.

As expected, jockey John Velazquez wound up on Circular Quay, and Garrett Gomez, the leading rider in the country, picked up the mount on King of the Roxy. But, it wasn't as simple as it sounds.

Barry Irwin, the head of the Team Valor syndicate which owns King of the Roxy, said he contacted the Pimlico stewards about making Velazquez honor his earlier commitment to ride King of the Roxy. According to Irwin, the stewards said they could, if Irwin wanted them to. But then Irwin said he sent an e-mail to his Team Valor partners asking if they should make Velazquez and his agent, Angel Cordero Jr., honor their commitment. Secondly, Irwin asked his partners, who should ride King of the Roxy if not Velazquez?

"It was 2 to 1 to not ride Velazquez," Irwin said. "Basically, people did not trust the situation and did not want to have a guy ride for us whose heart wasn't in it. And, they voted 100 percent to ride Gomez."

- additional reporting by David Grening