Point Given and Gary Stevens winning the Santa Anita Handicap. (Photos by HorsePhotos.com)
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
To understand the brilliance of Point Given, focus on all that he accomplished rather than what he did not do.
He rattled off four consecutive victories in $1 million races in 2001, ruling the Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Travers. “T-Rex,” as trainer Bob Baffert liked to call him for his imposing physique, joined Man o’ War (1920), Whirlaway (1941), Native Dancer (1953) and Damascus (1967) in sweeping the Preakness, Belmont and Travers.
Point Given’s performance in the Belmont was a sight to behold. Gary Stevens could not have ridden him more confidently. After breaking from post nine, they went five wide around the first turn while closing the gap on early leader Balto Star. They continued wide for the backstretch run, with Stevens merely biding his time.
They shot to the front leaving the half-mile pole. A P Valentine ranged up to challenge midway around the final turn but was easily repulsed. Point Given took command in the upper stretch and drew away with every energetic stride under the hard-riding Stevens.
Point Given completed the fourth-fastest time in the mile-and-a-half Belmont, covering the grueling distance in 2:26 2/5 seconds. That trails only Secretariat (2:24 in 1973), Easy Goer (2:26, 1989) and A.P. Indy (2:26, 1992). He is one of 11 horses to achieve the Preakness-Belmont double after failing to win the Kentucky Derby.
“He’s the best one I ever led over there for the Belmont,” Baffert once told ESPN. “I wasn’t worried about him getting tired. I knew he could handle the distance. They can either go that far or they can’t. You can’t train that into them.”
BOB BAFFERT WITH POINT GIVEN
Point Given was retired with a strained tendon one week after he completed his marvelous four-race run in the Travers, also is known as the “Mid-Summer Derby.” The son of Thunder Gulch, an eye-catching chestnut, was syndicated for a reported $50 million, a figure that trailed only Derby champions Fusaichi Pegasus and Big Brown.
He closed his career with nine victories and three runner-up finishes in 13 starts for earnings of $3,968,500. The Kentucky-bred was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2010.
“He should have had a lot more wins by his name there, but unfortunately racing luck cost him a lot,” Baffert said in the same ESPN interview.
Baffert, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, still views the 2001 edition as one that inexplicably got away.
Point Given entered the opening leg of the Triple Crown as a favorite who looked pretty much unbeatable, having rolled in the Santa Anita Derby by 5 ½ lengths. His last work before the Run for the Roses suggested the horse was on the verge of an explosive performance. He blazed five furlongs in 58 1/5 seconds.
Stevens was filled with confidence as they entered the starting gate, believing only a bad trip could get them beaten. He was determined to avoid that. “When you have the best horse in the race, you don’t want to get caught down inside and give the trainer and owner a reason to blame me,” Stevens said in an interview in The Blood-Horse. “So I kept him in position – in the clear and on the outside.”
When Stevens asked Point Given to make his move, there was no response. He shook him up again, this time indicating greater urgency. Still nothing.
Point Given finished a dull fifth. It was the only time he fell short of the top three, but it is a failure hard to forgive or forget. Sadly, he came up empty in the most important race of his life.