December 21, 2009

Remembering ... Point Given

He was not your average two-year-old. Far from it. Pounding the earth with every gigantic stride, Point Given now had his massive frame moving in a fluid motion. His stride was twice the length of any of the other juveniles in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup, but it would not matter, for he was left with far too much to do in the Churchill Downs stretch and was still mired back in 7th at the eighth pole. The classy Canadian colt, Macho Uno had made a winning move and had spurted clear of the rest of the pack. Still I could not take my eyes off of Point Given. He was now in full gear and it had all the look of a Cadillac chasing down a field of Yugos. So big and strong and closing so fast it reminded me of all those times I had seen Forego blistering down the Belmont Park lane. Point Given was flying like no other juvenile I had seen before. It was only a matter of how quickly the wire would arrive. Point Given was gaining half a length per stride, and when he passed Street Cry, I let myself believe for the first time that he may actually pull it off. Macho Uno was still running well, but Point Given was now billowing smoke from his nostrils. They would hit the wire together. On the line was the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and an Eclipse Award as best two-year-old. As the horses galloped past my vantage point, just past the wire, my mouth was ajar and my heart was pounding.

Did he get up? No. The photo revealed he had fallen a nose short. He had left a lasting impression though. On this day of great races, all I could think about was the Juvenile and how I had just seen next year’s Kentucky Derby winner.

It is difficult to win the Triple Crown. How’s that for understatement? No horse this decade was better in the Spring of their three-year-old year than Point Given and no horse was more dominant of his peers. Horse racing can be a fickle mistress. It is hard to believe how one horse’s fate can change so radically within the five weeks of the Triple Crown. The 133rd Belmont Stakes of 2001 was an ultra impressive display of strength and power. The son of 1995 Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch romped home under his regular rider Gary Stevens, more than 12 lengths in front of A P Valentine. Point Given’s final time of 2:26 2/5 was the fourth-fastest Belmont ever. Everything that I had imagined seven months earlier at Churchill Downs, had manifested itself that day at Belmont Park. Coming on the heels of an impressive score in the Preakness Stakes, Point Given had proven himself a star. It was a crowning moment, but unfortunately, he was not crowned.

Maybe it was the hard, lightning fast track surface at Churchill that day. Maybe it was the fact that he was too close to fast early fractions. Maybe it was the heat of the Louisville Spring. Maybe it was the banging around like a pinball in the field of 17. Or maybe it was just the only day in his career, that the 17 hands horse did not feel like running. All we know for sure is that May 5, 2001 was not Point Given’s day.

T-Rex, that is what his personable conditioner Bob Baffert affectionately called him, stormed into Louisville as the big horse in more ways than one. Since the BC Juvenile, he had easily handled his competition in the Hollywood Futurity and San Felipe. With his romping win in the Santa Anita Derby, Point Given had everyone thinking he was a legitimate Triple Crown contender. And then came the race. Point Given would run his only bad race of his career and fade to a well beaten fifth in the large field. Once again, Churchill Downs was the place of great disappointment for Point Given. The twin spires oversaw both of his seasons fall just short of greatness. The Derby performance seemed so out of character, but it happened, and it happened on the world’s largest stage. It was if the Racing Gods had not allowed Point Given immortality. Monarchos was a smashing winner that day, but we were all left to wonder what had happened to the big horse. Point Given was the horse that would end the long Triple Crown drought and yet it was not meant to be. Redemption would come in the Preakness and the Belmont and the Haskell and the Travers, four consecutive million dollar races, which only made the Kentucky Derby all the more puzzling.

Though his career was cut short, Point Given collected 9 wins and 3 seconds in his 13 starts with earnings just a shade below four million dollars. The Kentucky Derby was his lone loss of 2001, a season that saw him win six major stakes before a strained tendon prompted his retirement. He was rewarded for his excellent season by being named Champion three-year-old male and Horse of the Year. Currently he is a successful young sire standing at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. I wish the chestnut behemoth a long and happy career at stud. I remember you Point Given.

4 comments:

LDP said...

I have heard stories of his greatness. I have seen replay's of his Belmont where he left the competion choking on his dust.It is such a shame he never got to face older males or come back at the prime age of 4. Had he done that there is little doubt he would have burned his name forever onto the list of immortal greats.

Michael said...

You made reference to the rock hard track on Derby Day. I believe it was at Claiborne when we saw Monarchos that we were told that the track that day had ruined every horses career in the Derby that year except for Point Given. No other horse in the field went on to win another race and many were retired due to that surface.

We visit him each year at Three Chimney's and when we asked Sandy the Stallion Manager if he is still ridden, she said he will not let anyone on his back anymore. He is completely enjoying his retirement.

Thank you for remembering Point Given.

Brian Zipse said...

Michael,

I am 100% against tracks scraping the surface in an attempt to produce faster times, however; many horses came out of the 2001 Derby to win races and have strong careers. Point Given, Congaree, Balto Star and Startac were all Grade 1 winners after the Derby. A P Valentine ran 2nd in the Preakness and Belmont and several others in the race won races after the Derby.

Michael said...

Hmmmm. You are correct. I must have heard him incorrectly or I wasn't paying proper attention. Thanks for the correction.