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Rivals turn glance to Belmont


Bob Baffert and John Ward Jr. stood in their respective corners at Pimlico yesterday and talked about the rematch.

Baffert, trainer of Preakness winner Point Given, and Ward, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, held court the morning after the Preakness at their opposite corners of the Pimlico stakes barn. Both said that as long as their horses remain healthy and sound, they will run in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks at Belmont Park.

Which horse is better?

Said Baffert: "That question will be answered on Belmont Day when they both come down the stretch."

Said Ward: "It's even-up, with a long season to go."

Monarchos won the Kentucky Derby with a motorcycle-like charge in the second-fastest time ever run in the race. Only Secretariat's was faster. Point Given won the Preakness on Saturday with a grinding, dominating attack.

Oddly, Baffert blames Churchill Downs' racing surface for Point Given's defeat in the Derby, and Ward blames Pimlico's surface for Monarchos' setback in the Pimlico. Neither trainer criticized the tracks. Each merely said it did not suit his horse.

Churchill Downs was hard and fast on Derby Day. It was too firm for Point Given, a large horse whose feet hit the ground hard, Baffert said.

Pimlico was soft and deep on Preakness Day. Monarchos, who gains power mainly from pulling with his front legs rather than pushing with his hind legs, had difficulty getting hold of the track, Ward said.

The Belmont's 1 1/2 miles should suit each horse. Time will tell whether the track will.

Despite winning the Preakness with Point Given, Baffert remained reflective on the colt's loss in the Derby and lost chance of winning the Triple Crown. Baffert won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998 only to lose the Belmont narrowly each year.

"I thought if I was ever going to do it, I was going to do it with this horse," Baffert said. "At least we got one of them. When you win one, you appreciate how hard they are to win, any of them. It makes you appreciate the names on these boards back here."

Next to the stakes barn at Pimlico is a white fence. On the white boards are the names of the 11 Triple Crown winners.

Baffert said his other Derby-Preakness horse, Congaree, would get time off and then perhaps run in the Haskell Invitational Handicap on Aug. 5 at Monmouth Park. Baffert said he might someday try the Arazi colt at a mile on grass.

"He is one hellacious fast horse," Baffert said.

The trainer said Point Given and Congaree seemed fine the morning after the Preakness. Ward said the same about Monarchos. But he also said he would have the colt checked over to make sure nothing physical is wrong.

Asked about his preparation of Monarchos between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness - long, strong gallops instead of fast, shorter breezes - Ward said: "I might have to defend my training. But he's a fit animal."

He said he would not have trained the colt any differently. And he said Monarchos' hock joints in his hind legs, which proved bothersome in the past, were not the cause of his poor Preakness performance.

Two other Preakness horses are Belmont-bound: runner-up A P Valentine and fourth-place finisher Dollar Bill.

Dollar Bill encountered trouble for the fourth race in a row. After finally breaking clear, he roared down the Pimlico stretch. A sixteenth of a mile past the wire, as the horses galloped out, Dollar Bill was even with Point Given.

"He's got some big races with his name on them," Dallas Stewart, his trainer, said of the hard-luck horse.

Even with the resurgent A P Valentine, Dollar Bill and the likes of Thunder Blitz and Invisible Ink in the Belmont, the attention will fall squarely on the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners meeting in the rubber match.

"I think it's going to be a great rivalry between these two horses." Baffert said.

NOTE: NBC's coverage of the Preakness generated a 6.0 overnight rating and 15 share, giving the race its highest-rated overnight since 1990 when ABC had a 7.8/20. The 6.0 rating also represents a 30 percent increase from last year's 4.6/11, according to Nielsen Media Research. The overnight rating is based on the 51 metered markets. Baltimore was the highest rating metered market, earning a 16.6/37. Rating measures the percentage of all television households watching a particular program; share measures the percentage of televisions in use that are watching a particular program.

After the Preakness

Plans for the 11 Preakness horses:

Horse .............. Fin. ......... What's next?

Point Given ......... 1st .......... Belmont Stakes

A P Valentine ...... 2nd .......... Belmont Stakes

Congaree ........... 3rd .......... vacation, then possibly Haskell Invitational

Dollar Bill .......... 4th .......... Belmont Stakes

Griffinite ........... 5th ......... undecided, back to Saratoga

Monarchos .......... 6th ......... Belmont Stakes

Marciano ............ 7th ......... undecided, back to Delaware Park

Bay Eagle ............ 8th ........ undecided, back to Delaware Park

Percy Hope .......... 9th ........ Iowa or West Virginia Derby

Richly Blended ...... 10th ....... vacation, then shorter races

Mr. John ........... 11th ....... undecided, back to Churchill Downs

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