Speculation swirls every spring after the Kentucky Derby: Will this be the year Thoroughbred racing finally produces another Triple Crown champion?
Attention in 2007 is centered on Street Sense, the colt who last week broke the "Breeders' Cup jinx," which many have used as a handicapping angle since the multi-race autumn showcase was instituted in 1984.
Street Sense, who flashed brilliance in winning the 1 16th-mile Juvenile in early November, is the first 3-year-old to go on six months later to capture the Run for the Roses at a mile-and-a-quarter.
He will try to add the 1 3/16ths-mile Preakness Stakes to his credits on May 19.
Many observers say the Street Cry-Bedazzled colt is the best Triple Crown candidate to come down the pike in a long time -- perhaps since 1989, when Sunday Silence and Easy Goer dueled for supremacy.
Affirmed 10 years earlier was the horse last to sweep all three legs, though several since have won two, including Afleet Alex in 2005.
Barbaro, the 2006 Run for the Roses champion, never got a chance to shoot for all the marbles, breaking down early in the Preakness and later being euthanized after triumphing at Churchill Downs.
Afleet Alex was an exception, in that he captured the Triple Crown's final two races, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, after long shot Giacomo took the Derby.
Most Triple Crown hopefuls go into the grueling mile-and-a-half Belmont with a pair of victories under their saddles, only to lose at the longer distance; Smarty Jones in 2004 was a prime example, as were Funny Cide and War Emblem the previous two years.
Many racebooks posted Triple Crown propositions prior to the Derby, then took them down or juggled prices in the wake of Street Sense's triumph.
Bodog.com and VIP.com are two of few offshore books that currently offer Triple Crown wagering.
"No," there will not be a Triple Crown champion, is the favorite at both.
Bodog's prices are "No" minus $6.00 and "Yes" plus $3.50; they're minus $5.00 and plus $3.50 at VIP.
Both books also ask if Street Sense will win the Preakness.
Again, "No" is the choice.
"Yes" is plus $1.35 at Bodog and plus $1.40 at VIP; "No" is minus $1.75 and minus $1.70 respectively.
Shoppers at VIP this week also could find a prop that asks whether Street Sense will be this year's Breeders' Cup Classic champion.
Cost was plus $3.00 on "Yes" and minus $4.00 on "No."
One overseas site listed Classic odds on several dozen potential candidates, with Street Sense emerging as an early 3/1 favorite, followed by reigning champion Invasor at 4/1 and Derby show horse Curlin at 8/1.
Monmouth Park in New Jersey will be the site of the 2007 Breeders' Cup.
The Preakness is expected to draw only a handful of Kentucky Derby starters.
Runner-up Hard Spun is expected and Curlin is a distinct possibility, while fourth-place finisher Imawildandcrazyguy is being pointed toward the Belmont.
Other Derby also-rans rumored headed to Pimlico includes Sedgefield and Teuflesberg, with Todd Pletcher-trained King of the Roxy, runnerup in the Santa Anita Derby, likely to join them.
Pletcher's five Derby entrants finished off the board, making the Eclipse Award winner's record in Thoroughbred racing's most prestigious event an unimpressive 0-for-19.
The Preakness deck still was being shuffled at mid-week, so futures wagering on matchups and individual entrants wasn't available; in contrast, Derby futures, like Classic futures, are posted months in advance.
Veteran bookmaker John Avello of Wynn Las Vegas often puts up futures on one before the other even is contested.
Other anticipated Preakness participants include Lexington Stakes winner Slew's Tizzy, Chelokee, Xchanger, CP West and Flying First Class.
Distance is a primary factor in handicapping the Triple Crown.
The Preakness is a furlong shorter than the Derby and three furlongs less than the Belmont, which is three weeks later.
Horses often are bred to run on certain type tracks or at specific distances.
Some are sprinters, others routers or perhaps turf specialists; some are pace setters, others closers.
The filly Rags to Riches, for example, the Kentucky Oaks champion that is handled by Pletcher, may run in New York against the boys because her pedigree indicates an inclination to stretch out.
She is a half-sister to 2006 Belmont winner Jazil.
Experts also contend it's best to have an experienced, respected jockey in the longer Belmont because veteran riders are better prepared to guide a horse from off the pace.