Point Given rears up - as champion


The big horse ran his race.

Forget the puzzling fifth-place performance in the Kentucky Derby. Forget his second straight post position on the extreme outside. Forget his unruly behavior Friday morning at the stakes barn when Point Given reared on his hind legs and gave everyone a thrill and a tingle.

Trainer Bob Baffert said then, "It's his way of telling us he's feeling good, ready to roll."

And forget the fooling around the chestnut colt did in the Preakness stretch, gandering into the grandstand and making it difficult for jockey Gary Stevens to change leads.

On a relatively sluggish track surface, Point Given showed why he was everybody's choice heading into the Derby, making a bold move on the backstretch where he passed horses with ease, moving up to challenge on the final turn, then pulling away from stablemate Congaree after lugging in briefly without really bothering the challenger.

The bettors showed faith in the horse who stands 17.2 hands, making him the slight favorite over Derby winner Monarchos, who was never a factor in the Preakness.

It was a clean, almost technically flawless performance by Point Given, who had never been worse than second before being mysteriously flat after a mile at Churchill Downs.

Both Stevens and Jerry Bailey - aboard Congaree - looked over their shoulders for Monarchos at the head of the stretch and found him mired in the pack, without a kick or an excuse.

The comers were A P Valentine in his stoutest effort since he beat Point Given in the Champagne Stakes last fall and Dollar Bill, who got his first untroubled trip since February and was running strongly at the finish to gain fourth while A P Valentine and Congaree labored but held on.

If any entry had a legitimate gripe about his trip, it was probably Marciano, the local long shot. Jorge Chavez on Monarchos was crowded back along the rail by No. 2 Mr. John on the first turn and Marciano was steadied by Mark Johnston. He was forced to check again on the final turn. But that probably didn't cost him enough to keep him off the tote board because Marciano was running fourth and backed up to finish seventh.

As anticipated, speedy Richly Blended set the pace with Congaree chasing through the first three-quarters of a mile. The early fractions were :23 4/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 4/5, an honest but not overly blistering tempo for a 1 3/16-mile test.

This contrasted to the killer pace established by Songandaprayer at the Derby when the fractions (:22 1/5, :44 4/5 and 1:09 1/5) were record-setting. The closers got their wish from Richly Blended yesterday. He was just what they needed before fading to 10th.

That seemed to be an ideal scenario for Monarchos, who gained some ground behind Point Given on the backstretch after running far behind the crowd early. But he was wide all the way and was not up to the closing kick he demonstrated in the Derby.

Point Given's bold move was reminiscent of the one unleashed by another Baffert trainee, Real Quiet, in 1998. The only difference was that Point Given picked up more horses on the backstretch and only had to deal with Congaree down the lane. Everybody else was behind him after they straightened out for home.

A P Valentine ran a game race despite being brushed and shuffled back, and Congaree overcame a bobble at the start to run a courageous third.

Dollar Bill again encountered some trouble along the way and was forced to swing extremely wide for the drive, but none of the contenders was more interested at the end.

It was not a race that provided a lot of fodder for controversy. Point Given was clearly best and Monarchos just never got rolling. In the end, the cream surged to the front.

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