LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Carl Nafzger's story invariably starts the same way, in a box at Churchill Downs, watching a horse he had trained run away from the rest.
ABC captured the moment, with Nafzger describing the 1990 Kentucky Derby for an elderly lady, the 92-year-old owner of Unbridled, Frances Genter. It ends with him telling her, "You've won the Kentucky Derby, Mrs. Genter! I love you." Then he gave her a kiss.
Seventeen years later, Nafzger is back for a little more history. His 3-year-old Street Sense is trying to become the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner to take the Run for the Roses.
A lot of people of people think Nafzger has the best horse. Does he?
"That's like asking a guy if he likes his wife," Nafzger responded.
He quickly launched into the story of his life, of a young bull rider from Texas who was working at a ranch in Wyoming. He met a local teacher, got married, and they hit the road. First stop: Delaware Park. Nafzger was there for one summer, in 1976. He was at Monmouth Park the next summer, then on to Chicago's Arlington Park.
"We never owned a house for 20 years," Nafzger said. "One apartment to the next. One racetrack to the next. And one day I became an overnight success."
A lot of his fellow trainers know the story because they share bits and pieces of it. So is Nafzger, now 65 years old, enjoying being here with another Big Horse?
"A lot," he said. "When you're shooting out there with somebody's else money, that's not pressure, that's fun."
Within horse racing, Street Sense has his own indelible memory, last year's 10-length romp along the rail in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill. Nobody around Barn 26 was complaining that they were back at the same racetrack, which Street Sense still seems to love.
"When he turns for home here, he knows," said jockey Calvin Borel, talking yesterday after Street Sense's last pre-Derby workout, five furlongs in an easy 1:01.
Borel, a Louisiana boy, the son of a Cajun sugarcane farmer, talked about that Breeders' Cup, how Street Sense didn't need to be along that fast rail that day, although he sure didn't mind seeing a hole open up.
Borel related a story from when he was just starting out, working for his brother, a trainer. He rode six races one day and didn't do much in any. His brother gave him a little test.
"He put a bucket down," Borel said. "He made me walk around the bucket. He said, 'Which is the shortest way?' "
Team Street Sense isn't professing any concern that it lost its last Derby prep, last month's Blue Grass, on a head bob at the end, even after Street Sense switched leads three times in the stretch, not usually a problem for the colt. The pace for the Blue Grass was glacial, and Street Sense didn't necessarily love running on the Polytrack at Keeneland, Nafzger said.
And it doesn't matter to him, the trainer said, that losing the race probably cost him being the favorite. Finishing "a nostril" behind Circular Quay in last year's Breeders' Futurity meant Circular Quay was 9-5 for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile while Street Sense, the eventual winner, was 15-1.
Nor does Nafzger sound particularly worried that Street Sense has raced just twice this year, which only one Derby winner had done since 1947, the biggest knock on the horse.
"The horse has taken us here and he'll take us to the winner's circle of the Kentucky Derby if he can," Nafzger said.
All the Derby hype, pro and con, reminded Nafzger of a story from his bull-riding days, a positive newspaper story about his ability to stay on a particularly ornery bull that had thrown everybody else for five years. Nafzger showed the story to a mentor, an old bull rider.
"He looked at me and said, 'Too bad bulls can't read,' " Nafzger said.
Derby Top 20
Here are the expected starters for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, in order of graded earnings. Entries are being taken at Churchill Downs this morning, with the draw at 5 p.m. on ESPN. The top 20 in graded earnings qualify.
1. Street Sense $1,482,000
2. Scat Daddy $1,308,500
3. Circular Quay $1,116,134
4. Curlin $780,000
5. NobizLikeShobiz $778,500
6. Great Hunter $752,500
7. Stormello $642,900
8. Dominican $498,484
9. Tiago $450,000
10. Cowtown Cat $437,253
11. Hard Spun$360,000
12. Storm in May $227,500
13. Zanjero $205,000
14. AnyGivenSaturday $177,969
15. Liquidity $161,200
16. Sam P. $146,500
17. Sedgefield $127,500
18. Bwana Bull $125,000
19. Teuflesberg $122,942
On the Bubble
21. Chelokee $100,000
21. Reporting for Duty$100,000