08/21/2012 3:35PM

Travers: Street Life comes alive with distance, blinkers

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Barbara D. Livingston
Street Life works a half-mile in 48.23 seconds Tuesday at Saratoga in preparation for Saturday's Grade 1 Travers.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Waiting to unsaddle Street Life after the colt’s eighth-place finish in his debut at Gulfstream Park, trainer Chad Brown wasn’t expecting to hear rave reviews from jockey Jose Lezcano.

So imagine Brown’s surprise when Lezcano got off the horse after the six-furlong race and told him how high he was on the colt, but that he would benefit from going two turns.

“I’ve had Jose win on horses and not particularly like them,” Brown said Tuesday morning at Saratoga. “Here’s a horse that was way up the track, and he came back and said this is a really nice horse. And he never said that to me before on a horse that was beaten that way.”

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Lezcano’s assessment has proven accurate. Since being stretched out in distance, Street Life hasn’t really run a bad race – and that includes his sixth-place finish in the Wood Memorial. With maturity, blinkers, and judicious handling, Street Life enters Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes as a serious contender to win Saratoga’s marquee event.

Street Life, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Street Sense, comes off a 1 3/4-length victory in the Curlin Stakes here July 27 and is likely to be the fourth or fifth betting choice in what could be a 12-horse Travers field.

After Lezcano encouraged Brown to run him around two turns, Brown made the decision to send Street Life from south Florida to New York and his assistant Cherie DeVaux for the remainder of the winter. At Gulfstream, two-turn races were mostly contested at 1 1/8 miles. At Aqueduct, Street Life won a maiden race going a mile and 70 yards and then came back to win the Broad Brush, an overnight stakes, at 1 1/16 miles.

In the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, Street Life finished sixth, beaten 7 1/4 lengths by Gemologist. But Street Life was so far off the pace early, Brown knew the horse had no chance. In reviewing the race, Brown actually felt it was a solid performance.

“Entering the first turn, he was in another race back there,” Brown said. “To actually make up as much ground as he did surprised me. I thought the horse was going to trail the whole way. I literally drew a line through the race. That term gets thrown around a lot, but that was a text-book situation where you draw a line through it.”

Thereafter, Brown began training Street Life with blinkers, and while they didn’t immediately light a fire under the horse in the morning, Brown thought they helped Street Life when he finished third in the Grade 2 Peter Pan. Street Life finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes, rallying from last place in the 10-horse field.

While the Travers became the goal for Street Life, Brown wanted to get there via the path of least resistance. So instead of going in the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy – the traditional Travers prep on July 28 – he opted for the $100,000 Curlin Stakes run the previous day.

He also decided to change tactics. He wanted Lezcano to get the horse involved in the race earlier. While he was still last early on, Street Life was never more than six lengths back. He rallied six wide in the stretch and won by 1 3/4 lengths.

“I encouraged Jose to trust the horse,” Brown said. “If you use him a little early to and get him into the bridle down the backside, he’ll start pulling you, he won’t lose his kick. . . . The horse really responded and Jose executed it beautifully. You watch the relay, and Jose had his feet in the dashboard and he was pulling him halfway through the race. He could have been wherever he wanted. The horse is probably maturing and catching on, too.”

On Tuesday, Street Life completed preparations for the Travers with a half-mile work in 48.23 seconds, getting his final quarter in 24.01 in company with The Paddy Man.

Brown trains Street Life for the partnership of Hidden Brook Farm and Magnolia Racing Stable, the latter being that of Robert McNair, owner of the NFL’s Houston Texans. Jack Brothers, one of the partners of Hidden Brook, thought Brown’s urging to run in the Curlin as opposed to the Jim Dandy was wise.

“Our team, we loved the move taking a little bit of an easier path,” Brothers said. “We felt the race over the track was an important one. We put aside a short-term goal for a long-term gain. Coming into this race, we’re very happy.”

Street Life’s relatively quick rise to prominence is akin that of his 34-year-old trainer. Brown, a former assistant to Bobby Frankel, is on pace to have his best year yet, having already won 82 races – 13 off last year’s personal best. His horses have earned $5.4 million, which already surpassed his single-year best total of $5.2 million set in 2011.

At Saratoga, Brown ranks second in the trainer standings with 17 wins from 60 starters. Todd Pletcher leads all trainers with 25 wins from 102 starters.

Though he has run horses in only three graded stakes thus far – without success – Brown will be a player in the Travers, Test (Book Review), and Ballston Spa (Zagora) on Saturday.

“We’re happy with where we’re at,” said Brown, who has approximately 120 horses between Saratoga and Belmont. “To grow every year in money and wins and grow the quality of our stable without opening divisions everywhere, for me it works.”