04/04/2012 5:20PM

Wood Memorial: McNair back with Street Life

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Street Life wins the Broad Brush Stakes on March 17 at Aqueduct.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Though Bob McNair no longer maintains the presence he once did in Thoroughbred racing, the sport is never far from his consciousness.

While he is preoccupied this week with meetings for the upcoming NFL draft, McNair, owner of the Houston Texans franchise, will take time out Saturday afternoon to watch Street Life run in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

McNair bought half-interest in Street Life, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, from Sergio de Sousa’s Hidden Brook Farm following a visually impressive maiden win over Aqueduct’s inner track Feb. 11. Wearing McNair’s green and white silks for the first time – which now represent his Magnolia Racing – Street Life came back to win an overnight stakes by a half-length on March 17.

“His second race was very impressive,” McNair said earlier this week by phone from his Houston office. “For a young horse to make the kind of move that he did, to weave around and go inside between horses – and that didn’t seem to faze him at all – and he still had a big finish. It was the impressive style that really caught our attention.”

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His two wins have earned Street Life a chance in the Wood Memorial, where he will face the likes of undefeated Gemologist, the 8-5 morning-line favorite from post 6, and Alpha, the Count Fleet and Withers winner, who is the 5-2 second choice and who drew the rail. Street Life, who drew post 5, was made the 4-1 third choice on Eric Donovan’s morning line over Gotham runner-up My Adonis (8-1), The Lumber Guy (8-1), Tiger Walk (15-1), Teeth of the Dog (15-1), and Casual Trick (20-1).

In the 1990s and 2000s, McNair was a major presence in racing. He and his wife Janice campaigned horses under the Stonerside Stable banner. They owned a farm in Kentucky and the former Greentree training center adjacent to Saratoga Racecourse. Following the 2008 Breeders’ Cup, the McNairs sold virtually all of their Thoroughbred racing interests – including the training center – to Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum.

Before divesting, the McNairs won several major races, including two runnings of the Wood Memorial – in 2001 with Congaree and 2006 with Bob and John. Congaree, trained by Bob Baffert, went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby, while Bob and John finished 17th. McNair also was the co-breeder of Fusaichi Pegasus who won the 2000 Wood en route to winning that year’s Kentucky Derby.

“We’ve had very good luck at the Wood Memorial, hopefully that good luck will continue,” said McNair, who has three horses with Bob Baffert in California and two with John Gosden in England. “It’s obviously a very challenging race, running against top horses, you get a good feel for what your horse can do, whether he’s competitive to go on to the Derby.”

Back in 1994, McNair was part-owner of Strodes Creek, who finished second to Go for Gin in the Derby.

“We almost won that race,” said McNair, whose partner on that horse was Arthur Hancock. “That was our first Derby experience. We felt ‘this was pretty good, we came in second, next year we’ll come back and win it.’ It doesn’t quite work that way.”

In order for Street Life to go on to the Kentucky Derby, he will most likely have to win the Wood. The lightly raced colt has yet to compete in a graded stakes, thus has no graded earnings, the criteria used to determine the field for the Kentucky Derby if more than 20 horses enter. There is also a four-horse also-eligible list.

Street Life should relish the 1 1/8 miles of the Wood. In both of his route races, he has come with a sustained late rally that carried him to victory.

“He’s a horse on the improve that I expect to take another step forward,” said Chad Brown, trainer of Street Life. “The increase in distance should help him, now it’s just a question of is he ready to compete against the horses like he’s going to face on Saturday. He warrants a chance based on what I’m seeing in training.”

McNair would like to see Street Life take the same step forward that his Texans did in 2011. His team won its first AFC South Division title as well as its first playoff game before losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round.

“We were very close, we had a lot of fun, a lot of excitement,” McNair said. “Hopefully, we’ll stay a little healthier this year.”