June 15, 2001

Point Given Is an Exclamation
Was there ever any doubt?

Hah. It's so easy to make that sort of determination after the fact, in the unfailing clarity of hindsight, but, then again, he was favored in all three jewels of the Triple Crown, coming through for the public in two out of three. And as Meat Loaf would have put it, that ain't bad.

Though it makes you wonder, of course, probably out loud to all your friends at the track or wherever you hang out, what might have been. A different post, a more patient ride, an easier set of fractions. The vagaries of time and space that blended perfectly in the Preakness and Belmont conspired against him right out of the blocks -- literally -- in the big Derby, and when they did, instead of resulting in your 12th Triple Crown winner, Point Given joined the bulging ranks under the category "nearly was." Sigh. Such is the tantalizing torment of Thoroughbred racing.

So Point Given wins the Belmont in smashing fashion, looking like an Easy Goer or Risen Star or even -- hmmmm -- Secretariat. It was Point Given's birthright, and after the sensational efforts he pushed on us at the end of his two-year-old season and to start this year, it very well could have been a coronation. Instead, it was merely confirmation of the obvious: Point Given is the best of his generation, and not too far off his elders.

The others were just playing second banana, though one of them snuck off with the whole bunch the first time around. But in his mostly impressive showing in the spring of 2001, Point Given demonstrated that he could probably beat these clowns twice every three attempts, or pretty close to it.

Which is different from catching that slippery concept of value in the mutuel pools. After all, if you were a Monarchos fan, your $23-and-change mutuel in the Derby was better than the sum of Point Given's stingy returns in the Preakness and Belmont. Nonetheless, the Point Given fanatics still made out with a nice profit if they stuck to their guns throughout the series.

In the absence of Point Given, A P Valentine would have probably been the best three-year-old in the land, having finished second to the top one in the Preakness and Belmont. But a troubled trip in the Derby led most to mutter "child prodigy" under their breath, even though the A P horse was able to prove them wrong before they could exhale. It's nice to see a horse that was written off bounce back and perhaps be a force in the division the entire year.

And before you dismiss the importance of a reasonably productive two-year-old campaign prior to the crucial three-year-old season, look at what both Point Given and A P Valentine were able to do. Monarchos, at the time of the Derby, seemed ready to puncture a huge hole in the meaningfulness of the juvenile season. But, in retrospect now, maybe he simply freaked out or was blessed with the absolute perfect set of circumstances for the Derby. In the end, the horses that were known quantities at age 2 -- Point Given and A P Valentine -- were able to further develop (or at least maintain) to be the two best three-year-olds.

Monarchos came back OK in the Belmont, but it seems more and more that he needs a proper setup and certain dynamic in order to do his best running. Invisible Ink and Thunder Blitz should be filling out the events the top starts don't care to pick up. Dollar Bill is, well, Dollar Bill. He just might be one of those rotten-luck types who will find a way to come up short regardless of the competition.

The crop as a whole is solid, and not just up top. With at least three horses possessing reasonable talent, and several others who could do further blooming between now and October, who knows if it'll be Point Given or A P Valentine taking top honors in the Breeders' Cup Classic? After all, at this time last year, wasn't Tiznow just some ordinary Cal-bred who had just broken his maiden?

Stephen Foster: "The Old Folks at Home"
With the best three-year-olds on the sidelines for a few weeks at least, Churchill Downs jumps in with seemingly perfect timing to fill the void.

It's the Grade II, $750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap at a mile and an eighth, and some of this country's best handicap stars will give it a try.

There's Captain Steve, conquering hero of Dubai, back on native soil. He's the leader of his division, for now, and is an obvious candidate to be involved every step of the way. And that's why he's 6-5 on the morning line.

At 3-1 on the morning line and second choice is Unshaded, who had one super race as a three-year-old when winning the Travers, but has routinely been moderate. He knows no other way of going but the rally, and his rally, on its best day, is pretty good. Now with a really good pace to try to chase, he can run one of his winning efforts.

Graeme Hall grew up a little last time, rallying for a change and posting a reasonable figure in the process. This time, he'll probably want to leave nothing to chance, and that means attacking the pace throughout. It's a good strategy for him.

Guided Tour has disappointed as the beaten fave in each of his last two, both against suspect competition. That was the same kind of competition that propelled him to romps and impressive form very early in the season, but he seems to be up against it againt these heavyweights.

Brahms is winless on dirt, albeit just once. The good part is that you know he'll be putting in an honest effort in the late stages, often where these Churchill Downs races are decided. It looks like his pedigree will allow him to make a decent transition to the main track, and with a genuine pace going on in front of him, he could be closer than some expect.

Duckhorn has been unable to do anything but sit on the front end and romp lately, though he has closed OK on occasion. It's hard to see him getting clear against this group, especially at a distance shorter than a mile and a quarter, and he might be too far removed from his rallying experiences to remember how to do it.

Jadada and Da Devil could be duking it out for last-place honors.

In his first race back from the desert, Captain Steve will likely be at his most vulnerable. Not that it's much of a vulnerable, but it's a vulnerable nonetheless.

At moderate prices, Unshaded and Graeme Hall hold no charms, which means that a price of 10-1 or better on Brahms looks like the best chance bet in this event.

See you next time. As always, thanks for your continued readership.

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