April 20, 2001

It's A Wrap...Almost
Point Given will win the Kentucky Derby. Agree or disagree?

That's the topic on the table two weeks before the hype spends itself out.

Arguments in favor of the opening statement: Monarchos went backwards in the Wood, and won't have enough time to recover by May 5; Congaree was good, but he just doesn't have the experience or foundation to build upon; A P Valentine has the same hurdle as Monarchos' to overcome; Millennium Wind hasn't got the dosage to keep going the extra furlong; Balto Star, Balto Star...

There's your wild card, the bridge between pro and con, that Balto Star.

Arguments against the opening statement: Point Given hasn't faced any sort of prolonged challenge in a big race, and Balto Star is ready to give it to him; additionally, two three-year-old preps just isn't enough to get Point Given to where he needs to be, Baffert or not.

It looks like a two-horse race, and those two are Point Given and Balto Star. Of course, that scenario could evaporate if Baffert or Ward or any other trainer is concerned about a loose-on-the-lead Balto Star.

Unlike last year, the quality, absolute need-to-lead early speed in prospect for Derby 127 is in short supply. Last year, the front burners were turned to (or too) high, the pace boiled over, and the top of the race got blown off by the action brewing from the back. But this year?

Songandaprayer and Millennium Wind could conceivably try to roll with the Baltimore horse, but in terms of both numbers and visual evaluation, that forecast is unlikely to come to pass. Songandaprayer couldn't get by a loping Millennium Wind, and the latter has simply not put up Balto-style pace ratings, at least not as a three-year-old, and been able to post a semblance of a finish.

No. It'll take a true suicide bomber to drill Balto Star into submission, and that sacrificial mission will have to be carried out with the utmost precision.

Rabbits are supposed to hound their target, not get out all by themselves and allow the quality frontrunner an easy, unstressed trip alone in second.

A vivid example came a few years ago, in the 1994 Travers, when Holy Bull was trying to last a mile-and-a-quarter against a late-running Concern. Trainer Delp entered a rabbit to try to soften the 'Bull, but the rabbit was too fast, too soon. Holy Bull, though unaccustomed to having to come from behind, was still the leader relative to the rest of the field. When the rabbit died (figuratively speaking and figuratively speaking, again) on the lead, Holy Bull simply rolled past and, since he was running well within himself (even in second place) throughout the race, had enough to withstand the all-out rush of Concern -- by a diminishing head.

The all-time best example of a rabbit wasn't even a rabbit, interestingly enough.

Think back to the 1988 Preakness Stakes, the bitter warring and sparring between D. Wayne Lukas and Woodford C. "Woody" Stephens and their charges -- Winning Colors and Forty Niner, respectively.

Lukas scored the Round 1 victory in the Kentucky Derby, having gotten a clear, easy lead in the early stages and rolling all the way to the wire to hang on against a charging Forty Niner.

Being a man of pride, (but probably just wanting to get even), Stephens declared war in the Preakness. Knowing that a freerunning, frontrunning Winning Colors would be especially tough at the shorter Preakness distance, Stephens issued jockey Pat Day with an order: press the filly, hard, every step of the way, or else.

It worked to perfection. Winning Colors was tried throughout the early stages, and was beaten. Of course, Forty Niner actually finished worse than his rival, but Stephens made good on his threat.

And in turn gave future generations of trainers proper instruction on how to foil the big-race frontrunner, nevermind the chances of the horse offered up to do the foiling.

So, back to 2001. Balto Star will have to be kept honest through the half and three-quarters; otherwise, it might turn into a romp by the time they come out of the far turn.

Winning the race is one thing; bettability another matter entirely. This year, with the potential for 20 betting interests in the race, Point Given might be as high as 2-1, with Balto Star up to 7-2. How about Congaree?

Which is why any kind of analysis this far out, blind not only to last-second workouts but also the only thing that matters to the horseplayer-investor -- the odds -- is merely to contribute to the hype.

As far as a horse who should be doing his best running at the end, Jamaican Rum looks like it. This horse has been up against both big guns, and was hardly disgraced in defeat. His defeat to Point Given was his first two-turn dirt race as a 3, and how was he going to get past a lonely leader in the slop in Arkansas? If Balto Star gets pressure, and Point Given moves a little too soon, and if...

Well, that's why there are trifectas and superfectas.

Three-Year-Old Duo, The Final Conflict -- Act I: Coolmore Lexington
Imagine, if you will, the boarding area of an airport gate.

Ten anxious horses are seated in those cheesy, interlocking vinyl-and-metal chairs, shifting about, crossing their hind legs and clapping together their forelegs. One or two of them have a cigarette dangling from their lip. (Poetic license trumps any local public-smoking laws.)

They wait and they wait, hoping to be the one or two who can get their ticket punched to fly standby. The Point Givens and Balto Stars are already on the plane, comfortably hunkered down in first class and enjoying the extra leg room, maybe sipping on a vodka tonic.

The 10 who wait would be happy to get the last seat in coach, or even fly in cargo or stow away. But maybe they can make a compelling enough case to the gate attendant and get on legitimately.

And they are not without hope! After all, one of them not only made it on standby but actually was the first off the plane in Louisville two years ago. There's no shortage of dreams.

So to put an end to the tortured analogy, here they are, the 10 who await the starter in tomorrow's Coolmore Lexington Stakes.

And so it must be for most sequels, particularly the sequels of a sequel. After all, by the time you get to Rocky III or Police Academy IV, the marquee names have long since left the lot, leaving the understudies to mop up.

The Coolmore Lexington is at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. Keats will be your leader, provided he doesn't fall asleep in the boarding area, which is precisely what happened last time in Balto Star's Spiral romp. Unfortunately, he'll have to step up his overall race to be effective this time.

Distilled won't appreciate Keats' presence. Global Gait is like the little kid who aspires to emulate his elder siblings -- in this case, Point Given and Congaree -- but never gets there.

Your dead-nuts (pardon the hyperbole) trifecta looks like a late-running shootout among a longtime favorite of ours (Bonnie Scot), D. Wayne's Turnberry Isle and Griffinite. Yes!

Three-Year-Old Duo, The Final Conflict -- Act II: Federico Tesio Stakes
If the 10 in (the) Lexington are flying standby, these guys in Maryland -- and there are but five of them -- are more like they're sticking out a hoof, trying to show some leg and praying to entice someone to pull over and let them hitchhike to Churchill Downs. Desperate, baby, desperate.

The Tesio doesn't even make the grade (literally) anymore, and Burning Roma towers over this field, numbers-wise. He gets the homecoming Chris McCarron, too, and there goes the price, which doubtless will be lower than the already stingy 6-5 on the morning line.

Marciano tried to change style drastically last time, and wasn't completely unsuccessful, posting his best figure. If he can stay closer this time, and bring some of the rally he showed last time, Marciano can get the jump on the odds-on horse, and bounce back to a double-digit-mutuel win. Or at least that's how the script reads.

Enjoy the rest bewteen now and May 5. Back at you in seven days, probably with a practical pointer (or two) for your reading pleasure.

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