BALTIMORE (AP) _ Curlin nipped Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense by putting his head in front on the final stride, winning the Preakness Stakes in a riveting finish Saturday and ending any chance for a Triple Crown this year.
Street Sense seemed to have the race won after another of his patented rallies, taking the lead in the stretch. But under a fierce ride by Robby Albarado, Curlin snatched away the victory.
With Street Sense in his sights, Curlin relentlessly narrowed the margin with every stride. Albarado, sensing the Derby winner was his, went into an all-out drive for the finish, furiously whipping the big chestnut colt.
Two races earlier, Albarado was thrown from his mount but walked away unhurt and came back for the ride of his life.
The last Triple Crown winner is still Affirmed in 1978.
Curlin came into the Preakness with just four career starts, including a third-place finish in the Derby just two weeks ago. Still, trainer Steve Asmussen was confident in his lightly raced colt, and believed the son of Smart Strike would improve after his first defeat.
Did he ever.
Curlin won his first three races by a combined 28 1/2 lengths, and was well back in the field of nine. As Hard Spun swung into the lead with a three-wide move, Street Sense started to roll under Calvin Borel.
Street Sense went to the outside in the stretch and moved into the lead, and the crowd began to cheer in anticipation of a Triple Crown bid in the making.
But Curlin came flying along the far outside, and took dead aim at the Derby winner. He caught him on the final jump and, just like that, Street Sense was a beaten horse.
``I thought I had a different horse the first quarter of mile,'' Albarado said after his first Preakness victory. ``He started a 2-year-old and finished a 5-year-old.''
Curlin, who did not race as a 2-year-old, was purchased after his first race _ a 12 3/4-length romp at Gulfstream Park in February. The price was a reported $3.5 million by a group that includes Kendall-Jackson Wine owner Jess Jackson, Padua Stables, George Bolton and Midnight Cry Stables.
The colt hit a $650,000 jackpot by winning the 1 3-16th-mile second jewel of the Triple Crown, boosting his career earnings to $1,652,800.
The winning time was a lightning-quick 1:53.46. The record time is listed as 1:53 2/5, which converts to 1:53.40. The record is shared by Louis Quatorze in 1996 and Tank's Prospect in 1985.
Borel, who was so masterful in guiding Street Sense past 19 rivals and a Derby victory by 2 1/4 lengths, thought he had another victory when he broke clear of the field.
``I thought I was home free,'' Borel said. ``He came and got me. No excuses.''
Carl Nafzger, who trained Street Sense, put it a tad differently.
``Heartbreaking, that's what it was,'' Nafzger said. ``We only needed a nose. Curlin ran a hell of a race, but we had Curlin. We should never have let him come back and get us.
``When you open up a lead and have two lengths of daylight you're supposed to win the horse race. Other horses wouldn't have never tried that last kick like Curlin did.''
Curlin actually stumbled out of the gate, and remained in seventh in the early stages.
``We beat a champion in Street Sense, but Curlin is going to be a champion, too,'' Jackson said.
Curlin, sent of the 3-1 second choice by the crowd of more than 100,000, returned $8.80, $3.80 and $2.80. Street Sense, the 6-5 favorite trained by Carl Nafzger, returned $3 and $2.40. Hard Spun was third and paid $3.
The same three horses were the top three in the Derby _ Street Sense, Hard Spun and Curlin, who was nearly eight lengths behind the winner.
C P West was fourth, followed by Circular Quay, King of the Roxy, Mint Slewlep, Xchanger and Flying First Class.
Two races before the Preakness, in the Dixie Stakes, Albarado was thrown from his mount, Einstein, when another horse broke down and had to be euthanized on the track.
The tragedy harkened back to last year's Preakness when Derby winner Barbaro broke down seconds after the start and, after months of treatment, was finally euthanized in January.
His memory lives on with the Barbaro Stakes, and the winner provided a bittersweet reunion for Barbaro's co-owners and trainer in the winner's circle.
Chelokee, the overwhelming favorite, won easily. The colt is trained by Michael Matz, who trained Barbaro. Matz accepted the victory trophy from Gretchen and Roy Jackson, the fallen horse's co-owners.