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Exclamation Point With his electrifying Belmont romp, Preakness winner Point Given removed any doubt he's the best of his generation

June 18, 2001
June 18, 2001

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June 18, 2001

Stanley Cup

Exclamation Point With his electrifying Belmont romp, Preakness winner Point Given removed any doubt he's the best of his generation

This was a Belmont Stakes for history, the defining performance of
a golden chestnut who etched his name onto the rolls of the
race's most formidable champions. Down on the racetrack, astride
the mighty Point Given, Gary Stevens crossed the wire, thrust his
fist in the air and eased the colt into a canter. Up in the
tumultuous clubhouse seats, Point Given's owner, Prince Ahmed bin
Salman of Saudi Arabia, turned and embraced his trainer, Bob
Baffert, as if he were a lost son. "Thank you, Bob," the teary
prince said. "I love you."

This is an article from the June 18, 2001 issue

If there were any questions about the talent of Point Given, the
giant son of Thunder Gulch--himself the winner of the 1995
Kentucky Derby and Belmont--the colt put them to rest last
Saturday. In an extraordinary display of speed, stamina and
power, Point Given won by 12 1/4 lengths over A P Valentine, with
Derby winner Monarchos another three quarters of a length back.
The margin of victory was the largest in the Belmont since Risen
Star took the 1988 edition by 14 3/4. "He put on a show today,"
said Stevens.

That he did. Point Given's time of 2:26 2/5 for the 1 1/2 miles
tied Risen Star's clocking as the fourth fastest in the event's
history. Yet among all the toasts and celebrations was a sense of
destiny unfulfilled. Point Given's fifth-place finish in the
Derby, in which the colt got cooked by a fiery pace, eliminated
any chance he could become America's first Triple Crown winner
since Affirmed, in 1978. The Point's 2 1/4-length victory in the
Preakness, in which Stevens allowed him to settle slowly out of
the gate, deepened the disappointment of the opportunity lost in
the Derby. The lament only heightened after the Belmont. "It's
bittersweet," said Stevens. "He should have a Triple Crown after
his name."

No one felt this more keenly than Baffert, who had not won the
Belmont in four previous tries. In 1997 and '98 he saddled horses
who entered the race with Derby and Preakness victories under
their belts, only to get beaten in the Belmont. First, Silver
Charm lost in the last few jumps to Touch Gold, and the next year
Baffert watched in horror as jockey Kent Desormeaux moved Real
Quiet too soon. Tiring in the stretch, the colt lost by a nose to
Victory Gallop. Since Visa offers $5 million to any horse who
wins the Triple Crown--and a trainer receives 10% of purses
won--the losses stung Baffert to the quick. "We left another $5
million out there this year," he said. "That's $15 million!"

In the days leading up to the Belmont, Baffert could sense the
likelihood of another dominating performance by the colt he had
nicknamed T-Rex. Unlike Monarchos, who was beginning to show the
effects of his rigorous winter-spring campaign, Point Given
thrived on the work, and only accident or illness seemed capable
of untracking him. On May 30, a day Baffert calls Black
Wednesday--"the longest day of my Triple Crown life," he says--they
nearly did.

That morning at Churchill Downs, when the colt's handlers took
the mud poultice off his front legs, his shins were oozing a
clear fluid. They bathed them with hot soapy water, applied
medicinal cream and wrapped them in bandages. No sooner had that
healing begun than the colt, a mischievous, 1,270-pound clown,
hit his head in the stall and opened a gash over his left eye. A
vet sewed him up with four stitches.

That afternoon Point Given began to show signs of colic--an
intestinal disorder that causes constipation and, in its most
severe form, is life-threatening--so he was given a mineral-oil
enema to clear his congested digestive system. For four hours,
from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., Baffert sat on a chair in front of the
colt's stall waiting for the colt to relieve himself. After he
finally did, Baffert went to dinner, then returned to see how the
horse was. He appeared fine and, in fact, gulped down a tub of
hot mash.

Not wanting his horse to eat too much after the colic, Baffert
took the hay out of his stall. "I was afraid he'd get gas and
colicky in the middle of the night," he said. "I just gave him a
little alfalfa."

Around 11:30 p.m., with the alfalfa eaten and the shed dark, the
colt became hungry again. Baffert had accidentally spilled some
of the alfalfa outside the stall, and T-Rex tried to reach it by
stretching his neck under the plastic webbing that covers the
door. Something must have spooked him. Lifting his head on that
powerful crane of a neck, he tore the snaps off the webbing and
charged out of the stall, banging into a wall and opening a
four-inch cut on his right side. He started eating from the hay
nets hanging outside the other horses' stalls. Loose in the shed,
he could have killed himself. But the fuss he made awakened the
grooms, who dashed in to find him standing at the end of the
barn, his head in the air. "There was old T-Rex, yelling and
screaming like hell," said Baffert. "He's like a big kid."

Ten days later, at Belmont Park, the colt marched from Baffert's
barn, looking resplendent, his coat shimmering like molten gold
in the late afternoon sun. As expected, Balto Star went to the
lead under Chris McCarron, and down the backstretch Stevens
nearly had a stranglehold on Point Given. "I couldn't take any
more hold of him without cutting his wind off," said Stevens.
"That's how hard he was pulling."

As the nine-horse field raced into the far turn, Point Given
pulled Stevens to the flank of Balto Star. McCarron glanced over
and saw the blinkers, then the white and green stripes of the
Saudi's silks. "I thought, Oh, my God, he's here already," said
McCarron.

Moving in powerful, loping strides, T-Rex snatched the lead going
into the turn, opened a two-length advantage at the quarter pole
and looked like a giant rocking horse as he raced alone for the
wire. Nearly 74,000 fans stood in salute, among them Senator
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had bet Point Given across the board,
and former President Clinton. "I bet Monarchos," he said. His
late mother, Virginia Kelly, was a regular at Oaklawn Park in Hot
Springs, Ark., and he often had gone to the races with her.
Clinton had always wanted to attend the Belmont, he says, with
its relatively small fields racing 12 furlongs around those
sweeping turns. "It's the fairest test in the Triple Crown," the
former president said.

It could not have been fairer on Saturday. Nor its message
clearer.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHUCK SOLOMON Home free Point Given left the rest of the field in his wake on his way to the fourth-fastest time in the 133-year history of the Belmont.