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Facing singular challenge, Baffert has double vision


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bob Baffert says that when he leads Point Given out of his stall, the large chestnut colt just keeps coming and coming and coming.

Baffert, who trains Point Given, says the colt is so big he won't lie down in his stall. He says he thinks the horse is afraid he won't be able to get back up.

So what did Baffert do yesterday at Churchill Downs? He tried to hide the oversized Point Given, all 1,255 pounds of him.

Carrying his exercise rider, Pepe Aragon, Point Given stepped onto the track shortly after daylight without the yellow Derby saddle cloth bearing his name. Because Point Given had merely walked the shedrow the morning before, he was overeager, and Baffert figured the less attention the big colt got, the better.

"He's a playful colt," Baffert said. "He's got a lot of energy, and he'll get out there and rear up. Anything can happen with these horses. He might get loose. He might hurt himself."

Point Given may not have attracted quite the attention he does on mornings when he wears the saddle cloth with his name. But few missed the power-packed colt as he galloped 1 1/2 miles without incident.

It's hard hiding the favorite three days before the Kentucky Derby.

And Point Given, the son of a Derby winner, will likely be the most heavily bet Derby favorite since 1992, when Arazi was 4-5.

Arazi, the European sensation, failed in his bid for Derby glory, finishing eighth. But Arazi, while standing at stud in Kentucky, sired a large, courageous colt who grew up to become Congaree.

Congaree is Point Given's stablemate and Baffert's other entrant in the Derby. Congaree will likely be the bettors' second choice. The two provide Baffert, who has already won two Kentucky Derbies, one of the strongest one-two punches in the history of the race.

"It's hard to choose between the two," Baffert said. "They're both good horses. They're both training awesome."

In 1998, Baffert finished first and third in the Derby with Real Quiet and Indian Charlie. If his pair improves upon that, Baffert will become the fourth trainer to run one-two in the Derby.

In 1919, Guy H. Bedwell finished first and second with Sir Barton and Billy Kelly. In 1921, Herbert John "Dick" Thompson finished first and second with Behave Yourself and Black Servant. And in 1948, Ben A. "Plain Ben" Jones finished first and second with Citation and Coaltown.

Point Given, displaying no apparent flaws, presents the perfect portrait of a potential Derby winner.

He has won five of eight races and finished second in the other three. He won his last race, the Santa Anita Derby, with such authority that losing trainers prematurely anointed him the next Triple Crown winner.

But Point Given earned a large measure of respect here at Churchill Downs last fall when, after charging 10-wide from far back, he just missed winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by a nose.

After that race, Gary Stevens, his jockey, said he'd found his Derby horse. If Stevens wins the Derby with Point Given, he will become the first jockey to ride a father and son to victory in the race.

In 1995, aboard Thunder Gulch, a 24-1 long shot, Stevens captured his second Kentucky Derby. He won his first in 1988 with Winning Colors. Four years ago, aboard Silver Charm, another Baffert-trainee, Stevens won his third.

"The Derby is a tough race to win," Stevens said. "A lot of things have to go right. But my feeling is I'm riding the right horse. If things go well, he'll win."

For Point Given to win the 127th Derby, he will likely have to catch Congaree, one of the probable pace-setters. No one denies Congaree's speed. It's his experience that some question.

With only four races, Congaree is the least experienced in the 17-horse field. He has won three with ease, including his last one, the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct.

Congaree has never raced at Churchill Downs, but his father did. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 1991, Arazi unleashed perhaps the most electrifying move of the decade. He swept around horses and drew away like a motorcycle passing bikes.

After the Breeders' Cup, Arazi underwent knee surgery and never regained his 2-year-old form. He stood at stud for four seasons in England. Then he stood for one at Three Chimneys farm in Kentucky before being sold to Japanese breeders for service in their country.

During Arazi's one season in Kentucky, he sired Congaree, a chestnut colt born in 1998. Congaree emerged 30 pounds overweight, and during a difficult birth he suffered two broken and three cracked ribs. Later, he contracted pneumonia and then underwent surgery to remove a chip from his knee.

Baffert said that because of Congaree's misfortunes, the colt spent more time in close contact with humans than most horses.

"He's not afraid of anything," Baffert said. "He's a real sweet horse. We know he's good. We just don't know how good."

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