Carl Nafzger's been telling everyone that Street Sense probably won't run in the Belmont Stakes, and no one is the least bit surprised. The Belmont is great race, a classic race and its purse is $1 million. The Kentucky Derby winner would have an excellent chance of winning, and a victory would vault him back in front of Curlin as the nation's outstanding 3-year-old. But that apparently doesn't matter that much to Nafzger and owner James Tafel, two fine men, but two men who have gotten caught up in the sport's deleterious obsession with pampering its stars.
Enough with this nonsense. Perhaps the sport isn't exactly producing the kind of iron horses that would run 30 times a year in the forties and fifties, but there's no reason why horses should be running only five or six times a year and have to have two months off between races. There's no reason why a horse can't have three starts in the span of five weeks. Somewhere along the line, it became fashionable for trainers to take the cautious approach with their horses and now people are taking that to ridiculous extremes.
It's a sad day for the sport when a horse who has run all of four times this year and, apparently, is perfectly healthy may duck a Triple Crown race. The Belmont is a difficult race and the Triple Crown is a demanding series, but it is where good horses go to prove their mettle and their talent. Tafel and Nafzger should be relishing the Belmont challenge. Instead, they are prepared to run from it. That's not fair to a terrific horse in Street Sense and it's certainly not fair to the sport.
The Preakness, with its pulsating finish and Curlin's brave stretch run, was among the most compelling Triple Crown races held in years. It captivated a public that is thirsting for more of the same. Give the people Curlin-Street Sense redux and the Belmont is a major sporting event that will resonate with the racing fans and non-racing fans alike. Give them anything else and the Belmont is just another horse race.
It's refreshing that trainer Steve Asmussen and the ownership of Curlin understand the importance of the Belmont Stakes. They know how special and historic it is and they believe it is where a horse like Curlin belongs.
"This is the stage this horse deserves and those are the caliber of races he is intended for," Asmussen said after the Preakness when explaining his intentions to start Curlin in the Belmont.
Trainer Larry Jones and owner Rick Porter also get it. They've committed Hard Spun, a starter in the Derby and Preakness, to the Belmont.
They say the horse must come first. Fine. But what do they have to lose by running Street Sense in the Belmont? Nothing. Let him run in the Belmont and then give him his two months off before he returns in the Haskell. This one time, they can put the sport first and the horse a very close second. For Street Sense and the game, do the right thing.