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HEAD TO HEAD

The favorites staged a thrilling finish under rainy skies at Pimlico yesterday as a record crowd of 121,263 leaped to their feet to watch the 132nd Preakness unfold.

Hard-charging Curlin passed Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense by a head to win the race in record-tying time and eliminate the prospect for a Triple Crown winner in 2007.

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Street Sense passed Hard Spun, ridden by Maryland's Mario Pino, early in the stretch. The colt looked as if he would hold off a rally by Curlin. But Curlin, who stumbled out of the starting gate, roared up on the outside and passed.

The photo finish was so close that the crowd murmured with uncertainty before the results were posted. But winning jockey Robby Albarado said he never doubted the victory.

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The finish helped bring racing back to the fore after last year's Preakness was overshadowed by a catastrophic injury to Derby winner Barbaro. In honor of the fallen Derby champion, the ninth race was renamed the Barbaro Stakes, and Air Force parachutists swooped in to award the horse's owners with a ceremonial flag.

Most of yesterday's races broke under blue skies. But showers rolled in about 45 minutes before the Preakness and intensified 15 minutes before post time. The rain sent smartly dressed patrons scurrying from the grandstand, but did little to discourage the scantily clad throng that clogged the infield.

childs.walker@baltsun.com



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