April 13, 2001

Another Coronation?
"You just saw the Kentucky Derby winner."

"No. You just saw the Triple Crown winner."

It's all been said before, as recently as last year, in fact, but what do you think?

Haven't we been down this slippery path enough already that we might be a little more responsible about issuing such premature (Triple) crownings? Greased with hype and ended with a fall, setting the stage for another nine months of pregnant anticipation, hoping for any conceivable dot galloping on the horizon to blossom into the next big thing.

Surely, the fans in the stands last year at Aqueduct (and, indirectly, Santa Anita) were breathlessly and breathily huffing the same stuff about Fusaichi Pegasus.

After all, didn't the so-called Winged Wonder roll into Louisville an almost unbeaten juggernaut, proclaimed a victor so long as he loaded into the gate and sprang therefrom with Desormeaux still on his back? Yup.

And he did not disappoint. He lifted the collective hopes of a long-starved crowd and flew home to become the first favorite to win the Derby in 21 years.

Then came the Preakness, where he was grounded by a horse who sat out the Derby, shot down by one of his pre-Derby victims, Red Bullet. How did that happen?

As horseplayers, we should all know that it happens. Fu Peg, as he was lovingly nicknamed by his screaming fans, didn't even make the Belmont, and though he recovered a little during the fall, he could not in the Breeders' Cup Classic recapture the Churchill Downs magic of six months earlier. (But it didn't matter; by then, all the syndication checks had already been cashed.)

So it is beginning anew in 2001. The name may have changed, but the story line is the same: Point Given will win the Kentucky Derby, they say earnestly. He will win the Triple Crown, they say excitedly.

What do you think?

It says here that Point Given, while impressive at the end of his two-year-old season and so far in his sophomore campaign, still hasn't faced a challenge worthy of his talent.

The horses he zoomed past in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile have, for the most part, gone away. No staying power there.

In his first start as a three-year-old, in the San Felipe, Point Given won comfortably, though the door remained open, albeit just a tiny crack, for someone to turn the tables in the Santa Anita Derby.

It did not happen. I Love Silver, his closest competitor in the San Felipe, tried to make a run at him in the Santa Anita Derby, looming seemingly large midway around the far turn.

But just as soon as the crowd held its breath in anticipation of a fight to the death, it exhaled. Point Given straightened out, was set down, and I Love Silver began going up and down, unable to get past the well-beaten pacesetter, Crafty C. T., who won the San Rafael and was supposed to stick it to Point Given on the front end.

Instead, Crafty C. T. himself got stuck when Point Given kept him honest every step of the way before stomping on the pedal late.

Who's left? Who's next?

With Fusaichi Pegasus' Derby preparations, at least, he handled the best of both coasts, and knew what to expect. It turned out his stiffest challenges came from back East. What if Drysdale hand't shipped him back for the Wood?

But Baffert is no dummy, and judging by what we've seen from Cavonnier and Silver Charm and Real Quiet (but not from General Challenge or Indian Charlie or, to a lesser extent, Captain Steve) the trainer is doing what he feels will get Point Given home.

But until you race them on the track, you never know. Can a Monarchos or even a Hero's Tribute or possibly a rejuvenated Millennium Wind sneak up on him at Churchill on May 5?

Maybe, but probably not. The Derby looks safe. Time is running out.

Beyond that, however, all bets are off. If some of Point Given's rivals aren't rested and loaded for bear at Pimlico, Belmont and its mile and a half certainly will be.

And Baffert knows all about that. Snatched twice from Triple Crown glory, by a length with Silver Charm and by a nose with Real Quiet, he knows better than to echo the out-of-breath sentiments of the masses last Saturday at Santa Anita.

"You just saw the Kentucky Derby winner," you might smile. Baffert might smile, too.

"You just saw the Triple Crown winner." Baffert would wipe the smile off your face.

Three-Year-Old Trio, The Sequel -- Act I: Wood Memorial
This year, only six will go postward, nothing like the dozen or so who wanted to test the California shipper Fu Peg last year. Here is the patented rail-out, bottom-to-top rundown:

Paging - Your bona fide rallier in this short field, he got better last time, closing into a not-so-spectacular pace at Tampa. He still has plenty of work to do in this field, though.

Monarchos - Slow but steady improvement in each of his last three. Can he keep it going? He showed a new dimension last time, getting farther back than usual before unleashing an authoritative middle move and super stretch run. Interestingly, this is his first try in so short a field; thus, the dream setups he's been getting lately may not materialize this time.

Voodoo - He has the grim task of trying to stick with Richly Blended into the first turn and down the backstretch. He hasn't shown much fight when challenged early, and that situation seems likely here.

It's So Simple - Breaking from post 13 in the Florida Derby couldn't have been any fun, and he should encounter fewer obstacles to his reasonably good late-run in this race. It isn't simple, but it isn't inconceivable he could burst forward this time, either.

Congaree - The acid test. The speed this time has already moved past its preliminary allowance conditions, and if he tries to breeze past this bunch somewhere down the backstretch, he may find them much more difficult to blow down.

Richly Blended - Your leader, perhaps, unless Voodoo requires an unholy equine sacrifice. The one-turn mile at the Big A is merely an elongated sprint, especially in terms of its dynamics. Breaking from the outside and going that extra turn could be a stern test of his will.

6. Voodoo
5. Paging
4. Richly Blended
3. Congaree
2. It's So Simple
1. Monarchos

Obviously, 4-5 on Monarchos is not a good thing, and Richly Blended has too many question marks surrounding him to make 5-1 appealing. Congaree also figures to be an underlay, which makes It's So Simple, again, the value here. Let's hope Zito is serious.

Three-Year-Old Trio, The Sequel -- Act II: Toyota Blue Grass Stakes
How many can you fit in a Toyota? More than in Wood, but hardly as many as you'd squeeze into an Ark.!

In terms of pace, the Blue Grass seems faster, though the final-figure requirements are similar. Here we go...

Invisible Ink - This guy can rally a little, but only when he's pretty close to a moderate pace. This time, the pace is much stiffer than he's used to, and that's precisely what he got when he regressed in the Florida Derby.

Millennium Wind - It's now or never, and this really is the best shot he's got to get back on track. He was too close to the front in New Orleans, but with a more relaxed trip here, he can unleash a number similar to the one he posted two back, his only rally.

Hero's Tribute - Two turns were not a pleasant experience for him last time. He should be involved from the get-go, but does he now have a better foundation to handle the two turns -- and the nine furlongs?

Dollar Bill - Nine-to-five? Nine-to-five? Unfathomable! Indefensible! A genuine Millennium Wind would throttle him, and so would most in this lineup. Hope the Pat Day fanatics come out in droves.

Bonnie Scot - Honestly, this is one of the horses whose efforts peg him ahead of the counterfeit Dollar Bill. Seriously. This one will rally better than that one, even though the pace slows down a little this time.

Songandaprayer - Can he get clear by open lengths down the backstretch? That is the question? Without a measurable advantage on the lead, he's probably doomed, and Hero's Tribute doesn't figure to let it happen.

A P Valentine - Most people have been quick to dismiss the public workout he got in his Hialeah allowance last time, but now that he's accumulated a positive come-from-behind experience, he can use this to get back to that lofty level at which he was perched before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile debacle.

7. Songandaprayer
6. Dollar Bill
5. Hero's Tribute
4. Invisible Ink
3. Bonnie Scot
2. A P Valentine
1. Millennium Wind

This exacta will not be bad at all, given Dollar Bill's way-overbet status and the possibility of the coupled entry running worse than second. In fact, Millennium Wind at that forecast 4-1 would be a bit of a gift.

Three-Year-Old Trio, The Sequel -- Act III: Arkansas Derby
Usually, this is the weakest of the trio, but this year, there's a switch -- Balto Star comes into this race with his Spiral freakout, and Jamaican Rum's third-place effort to Point Given in the San Felipe was actually a decent effort.

And with 12 signed on, the pace should be honest.

Son of Rocket - Should live up to his name out of the gate, but entering that long homestretch, should be behaving more like a change-up than the heater.

Strike It Smart - He seems to have the same potential difficulty as the 'Rocket.

Royal Spy - He tends to rally OK, and this pace will be the fastest he's seen. Still, everything ahead of him would have to collapse.

True Concern - This guy resembles Royal Spy.

Mongoose - Plenty of pace, but after that, it's finger-crossing time.

Crafty Shaw - Last time, he got an easier pace to track, and he did what he had to, posting a respectable figure. Much more pace this time, however, and that colors him as a candidate for a regression.

Arctic Boy - He closed encouragingly last time, and the improvement was measurable. He's not too far from the typical winning figure for this race, and another move forward could do it.

American Prince - Looks outpaced this time, and will have to fight harder to stick around for anything.

Jamaican Rum - That finish behind Point Given and I Love Silver wasn't altogether a by-default one, given what Point Given went on to do. (And what I Love Silver failed to do in the Santa Anita Derby was due largely to the absence of a breakneck pace.) Pace is no problem here, and he can take it to the next level in this race.

Firststatedeposit - Going two turns doesn't seem to be his game.

Balto Star - With the pace this fast, he needs a clear lead. When he successfully tracks or flanks, it's against easier splits. Even if one pacesetter falls asleep in the gate this time, there are others who won't. Outside is no help, and going wide is a scenario (not a good one) for him here. Clear the runway for a landing.

Faiths Wish - You think so? How about Faith Hill instead?

12. Faiths Wish
11. Strike It Smart
10. Son of a Rocket
9. American Prince
8. Mongoose
7. Firststatedeposit
6. True Concern
5. Royal Spy
4. Crafty Shaw
3. Balto Star
2. Arctic Boy
1. Jamaican Rum

Unlike the trio of three-year-old races last week, this week's round has favorites who seem a little more vulnerable to getting upset. Balto Star will have to regress some, and post 11 with more pace just about guarantees it.

Arctic Boy is not a bad chance at 6-1 on the official track program. And if 'Balto is severely overbet, the 'Jamaican might hold up a good price on the tote.

And there you have it. Should be a great 45 minutes of nonstop racing action.

Next time: Catching our breath.

Enjoy your racing week. See you next Friday with more interesting, meaningful and cool stuff.

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