BALTIMORE - Street Sense trainer Carl Nafzger said his pre-Kentucky Derby instructions to jockey Calvin Borel were simply this: "You love to ride races. Have fun."
Nafzger could have added: Go ahead and shed tears of unbridled joy as soon as you cross the finish line, invoke the name of your dead daddy on national TV as you talk about that moment being the best of your life, realize that the invitation to visit the White House isn't some prank, trade quips with the president, have him introduce you to Queen Elizabeth II, decline Jay Leno's entreaty to appear on the Tonight Show because you've got horses to ride, and expect your personal Cajun tale to be told all over the land.
"Right now, I'm just going to ride the ride," Borel said yesterday morning upon his arrival at Pimlico Race Course.
He was talking about more than just getting on his horse, and professed confidence that today's 132d Preakness Stakes wouldn't be the end of it - that by tonight, Street Sense will be a step closer to horse racing's first Triple Crown in almost three decades.
"If he don't fall, there's no way he'll be getting beat," Borel proclaimed about the Kentucky Derby winner. "He has so many gears, you wouldn't imagine."
No worries about this being Borel's first time at Pimlico?
"It's the same thing - just turn left," said the jockey, who had a couple of mounts yesterday to get acquainted with Old Hilltop. "It's a racetrack."
But this one has famously tight turns.
"I was born and raised on a track like that," Borel said. "At Delta, it's like a bull ring."
All the extracurricular craziness since the Derby didn't get in the way of his preparations?
"There's nothing to prepare. I'm fit. I work seven days a week," Borel said. "I have a good clock in my head."
Most important, Borel sounds convinced that he doesn't need the dream trip he got along the rail at Churchill Downs, when Street Sense went from 17th place to fourth in two breathtaking furlongs.
"He's the kind of horse, he makes his own trips," Borel said. "If he needs to go around, he will."
Nobody knocks his horse, but not everyone is convinced things will go so smoothly today. Washington Post columnist and handicapping guru Andrew Beyer gives Derby runner-up Hard Spun a real chance to turn the tables, since this is a different kind of race. Beyer pointed out that since 1990, eight horses have won the Derby by rallying from 12th place or farther behind, and seven of them ran in the Preakness, and all of them lost.
If Hard Spun - who is owned by Rick Porter of Wilmington, and dropped to the ground at Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable in Malvern, just off Sugartown Road - can't quite get another big race, there are other ways Street Sense could go down. Borel mentioned that he expects previously undefeated Curlin to "improve a little bit" after getting some necessary education in the heavy traffic of the Derby. Todd Pletcher has a couple of horses, Circular Quay and King of the Roxy, looking to get this decade's leading stakes-winning trainer off his personal Triple Crown schneid. And Xchanger has a little wise-guy support, given his freshness and proven ability to run at Pimlico. D. Wayne Lukas, who has saddled five Preakness winners, is looking for the pace to be set by his horse, Flying First Class, although getting the distance will be a problem for him.
To this point, Borel is the rubbery face of this year's Triple Crown series. Even President Bush knew the gist of his story, how this son of a French-speaking Louisiana sugarcane sharecropper got on his first horse at age 2, left school for good in the eighth grade, and was riding races in the fields before he ever saw a racetrack. Upon Borel's arrival at the White House two days after his Derby win, the President greeted him with a hug.
"Where'd you steal that tuxedo?" President Bush kidded him.
"I found it by the side of the road," Borel bantered.
The jockey was the surprise special guest at a white-tie state dinner for the queen of England, since Queen Elizabeth II had been at Churchill for the Derby and is known to be a big horseracing fan, not above handicapping the races back home.
"The most memorable thing was probably being in the limo," Borel said, recalling his arrival at the White House, how he went from the darkness of the inside of that limousine to flash bulbs going off everywhere. "The paparazzi was outside and it scared the you-know-what out of me."
"It was wonderful," Borel said of meeting the president. "He made me feel at home. I walked in, he hugged me and said, 'This is the man of the hour.' And then he introduced me to the queen. It was awesome."
And what did the queen have to say?
"She just told me congratulations," Borel said. "She knew what was going on."
Borel took the whole thing in stride, especially compared to the reception in his own Louisville neighborhood when he drove home the night of the Derby.
"They had a banner, balloons - they sang a song about me and Street Sense," Borel said. "It was unbelievable. It was about 15 kids - 5- 6-year-olds - and it was the dangest thing I'd ever seen in my life. It made me cry."
Yesterday, this 40-year-old man who is "about as worldly as the horse he rode in on" - as an ESPN.com columnist wrote this week with affection - kept his priorities lined up. Borel spent a minute talking about meeting the president and the queen, and 20 more minutes talking about that horse he rode in on.
"He's given me my dream come true," Borel said. "So I'm going to do my best to try and pay him back."
132d Preakness Stakes
What: Second leg of the Triple Crown for 3-year-old thoroughbreds.
When: Today, Race 12, post time: 6:09 p.m.
Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore.
Purse: $1 million. Distance: 13/16 miles.
TV: NBC10, 5-6:30 p.m.
Weather Forecast: There is a 40 percent chance of showers.
No. Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
Alan Garcia Robert Bailes 30-1
2. Xchanger Ramon Dominguez Mark Shuman 15-1
3. Circular Quay John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 8-1
4. Curlin. . . Robby Albarado Steve Asmussen 7-2
5. King of the Roxy. . . Garrett Gomez Todd Pletcher 12-1
6. Flying First Class Mark. . . Guidry D. Wayne Lukas 20-1
7. Hard Spun. . . Mario Pino Larry Jones 5-2
8. Street Sense Calvin Borel Carl Nafzger 7-5
9. C P West Edgar Prado Nick Zito 20-1
Craig Donnelly: How the Race Will Be Run
Heading into the first turn
Flying First Class (6) sets a clear pace followed by Hard Spun (7), Exchanger (2), and Curlin (4). King of the Roxy (5) races five lengths back with Kentucky Derby champion Street Sense (8) angling inside under patient handling. Circular Quay (3) races far back while unhurried.
Heading into the far turn
Flying First Class (6) begins to be pressured from his nearest pursuers, Hard Spun (7), Exchanger (2), and Curlin (4) as Street Sense (8) is asked for run by Calvin Borel as the pace quickens. Circular Quay (3) is still well back while passing overmatched faders.
Heading into the stretch
Hard Spun (7) takes a narrow lead with Curlin (4) looming boldly outside as Exchanger (2) begins to weaken and Street Sense (8) closes the gap. Circular Quay (3) can offer only a mild rally as Flying First Class (6) retreats.
At the finish
Curlin (4) overtakes Hard Spun (7) to score by nearly two lengths, and the latter holds off a fast-closing Street Sense (8) to complete the exacta. Xchanger (2) finishes evenly ahead of Circular Quay (3).
Craig Donnelly's Analysis
Curlin (No. 4)
was so impressive in his debut at Gulfstream in February that he was sold for $3.5 million and changed barns. He immediately tested stakes company while stretching out for the first time and crushed Oaklawn rivals in the Rebel. His record-setting 101/2- length romp in the Arkansas Derby was reminiscent of Afleet Alex two years ago. His Kentucky Derby setback can be blamed on inexperience and the failure to gain good position early in the bulky field.
Hard Spun (No. 7) repulsed all early challengers in the Derby and fought back valiantly when challenged in the stretch by Street Sense. A winner of five of seven starts in decisive style, he showed in the Lane's End Stakes that he takes kindly to rating and can effectively sit off an early pacesetter.
Street Sense (No. 8) is one of only a few stretch-runners in Derby history to accelerate so strongly on the final turn en route to an impressive victory. He was the beneficiary of a perfect trip in Louisville but does not figure to encounter traffic problems in a more compact field in Baltimore. His biggest obstacle may be offering his best effort outside of his favorite track, Churchill Downs, where he also captured last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile by a double-digit margin.
Xchanger (No. 2) set the pace when humbled by Curlin in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn but boasts the only experience at Pimlico, taking the Tesio Stakes on April 21 by nearly five lengths while merely cruising the final quarter mile under Ramon Dominguez. Takes a giant jump in class but deserves the best long-shot chance in the field.
Craig Donnelly's Wagers
In the Kentucky Derby, Craig Donnelly correctly boxed the exacta ($5 bet) and trifecta ($2 bet) to net $632.50 in profit.
Here are his Preakness bets: $30 to win on (4) Curlin;
$10 exacta box, 4-7, Curlin with Hard Spun; $10 exacta box, 4-8, Curlin with Street Sense; $10 exacta box, 4-2, Curlin with Xchanger.