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Best Horse? It's a 'Given

Horse racing: Santa Anita Derby turns into showcase for Point Given, who wins by 5 1/2 lengths on his way to Kentucky.

April 08, 2001|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you look at Point Given, a strapping example of thoroughbred horseflesh, it's hard to find any faults. But the colt does eat too much. And sometimes at the barn, he feels neighborly and runs off to visit other horses. Also, when he gets the lead in his races, he has a tendency to loaf.

No one's perfect, and trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Gary Stevens are addressing these minor defects. Since December, Baffert has had Point Given on a diet of sorts, though it hardly shows. He has lost all of 26 pounds and while down to 1,260 pounds he's still the biggest, most intimidating horse in the barn. In his races, as he did Saturday, Stevens will tap Point Given on the shoulder with the whip, just to make sure that his interest isn't flagging.

If Point Given has room to improve--shedding a few more pounds and paying more attention through the stretch--then his opponents face even greater trouble in the Kentucky Derby. Point Given's 5 1/2-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby before 31,759 was so authoritative that no matter what Monarchos, the Florida Derby winner, does next Saturday in the Wood Memorial, Baffert's colt will be the favorite May 5 at Churchill Downs.

"Point Given is the real thing," said trainer Howard Zucker, whose Crafty C.T. led Saturday for almost six furlongs before finishing second. "If he doesn't win the Triple Crown, something's wrong."

Point Given, who has now won three in a row and five of eight starts overall, showed new dimensions. He raced on an off track for the first time--completing 1 1/8 miles in a sharp 1:47 3/5 over a strip listed as wet fast--and tactically he gave Baffert and Stevens more to work with.

"Based on what I saw today, you can put him anywhere," Baffert said. "On the lead, off the pace, whatever."

Stevens, who has won the last three Santa Anita derbies in which he has ridden, won it for the eighth time, tying the record held by Bill Shoemaker. Stevens, who missed last year's race, temporarily retired because of arthritic knees, has amassed his total with 13 mounts since 1988.

"I'm in pretty select company with Shoe," Stevens said. "It's quite an honor."

These last three Stevens victories in the Santa Anita Derby have all come with Baffert horses--Indian Charlie (1998) and General Challenge (1999) preceding Point Given. Baffert's other win in the stake was with Cavonnier in 1996, but his two Kentucky Derby victories--with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998--came with horses that ran second in the Santa Anita Derby. Wayne Lukas is the only other trainer with four Santa Anita Derby winners.

"All I asked Gary to do was bring him back so tired that I won't have to do much with him between now and the Kentucky Derby," Baffert said.

Stevens had to gallop out Point Given an extra eighth of a mile past the finish, and still the colt didn't look fatigued. The Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles should not be an obstacle.

"I have to apologize to Bob about not getting him tired," Stevens said. "He's pretty fit right now, and he barely broke a sweat today. At the top of the stretch, he was just galloping. When he got to the front, he responded better today than he did in his last race."

A son of Thunder Gulch, winner of the 1995 Kentucky Derby with Stevens aboard, and the Turkoman mare Turko's Turn, Point Given paid $3.40 as the heavy favorite. He earned $450,000, sending his career purses over the $1.2-million mark. Point Given is owned and was bred by Amed Salman, the Saudi Arabian prince who excitedly watched on television back home, where his wife gave birth to their son last week.

I Love Silver, second to Point Given in the San Felipe Stakes, was third this time, beaten by 8 1/2 lengths. With Early Flyer and Startac scratched, the rest of the order of finish was Palmeiro, Cherokee Kim and Scorpion, one of the last hopes for Lukas, a four-time Kentucky Derby winner. None of the horses behind Point Given are expected to run in the Kentucky Derby.

Crafty C.T., who had won the San Rafael Stakes on the lead, set the early pace with fractions of :22 2/5 and :46 2/5. Point Given, who broke from the inside post, was a length off the lead after half a mile and collared Crafty C.T. going into the far turn.

"I let Gary pass me," said Eddie Delahoussaye, who rode Crafty C.T. "I tried to come back on, but the other horse was superior. Point Given was awesome. When we were going to the first turn, I thought I'd try to tighten up on them, but Gary saw what I was doing and eased back and went around. So that's another thing about Point Given, he's versatile. It's just another one of his weapons."

Baffert said he didn't know what to expect because of the wet track, but Stevens sensed from the start that this was going to be another of Point Given's banner days.

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