With the announcement last week that Point Given will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame this summer, thoughts turned to his absolutely dominating Belmont Stakes (gr. I) performance of 2001 when he marauded away with the race by 12 1/4 lengths. His rider, fellow Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, was trading stories in the Belmont Café with rider John Velazquez and former riders Angel Cordero Jr. and Jose Santos the day before the 2010 Belmont, and his memories of Point Given are still vivid.
“He is a very deserving horse for the Hall of Fame, and I’m proud that he got in,” the Idaho native said. “Since 2001, he’s probably the best horse never to win the Triple Crown. You move on, but I’m still haunted by his loss in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). For that pure feeling of confidence, the only horse I rode after him that gave me that same feel was Rock Hard Ten.”
In a field that included major talents such as A P Valentine, Derby winner Monarchos, and Invisible Ink, Point Given toyed with them all. He was sitting a close-up third through the first half-mile, with his rider just waiting to push the button.
“I was smiling up the backstretch,” Stevens said. “I was thinking how many lengths I wanted to win by. It was funny—there was a headwind inside the quarter pole and my number armband got loose and began flapping, and the sound was like hoofbeats coming at us. Point Given was loafing around on the lead, but I was getting a flashback to Silver Charm getting caught from behind (in 1997’s running). So I began riding him hard and his ears were going back and forth and we ended up winning by nearly 13 lengths.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about his Kentucky Derby (in which he finished fifth). I was very hard on myself. He got a little tough on me when I tried to tuck him into position. Just recently, I watched the replay of that race for the first time, and you know what, the ride wasn’t that bad. When you have the best horse in the race you don’t want to get caught down inside and give the trainer or owner a reason to blame me. So I kept him in position in the clear on the outside.
“He’d had an infection in one of his back feet that week. On a deep track it didn’t bother him. The track had been deep for training that week, but then on Derby Day I set a track record with an allowance horse named Love At Noon and I told (trainer) Bob (Baffert) we were in trouble because the track was hard.
“Pimlico was deep, and so was Belmont. As far as his Belmont goes, Risen Star in 1988 was the only performance I’ve personally seen that compared to Point Given for domination.”
Stevens was aboard last-place finisher Winning Colors, the Derby winner, for Risen Star’s 13 3/4-length victory at Belmont that day.
Baffert, Point Given’s conditioner and yet another Hall of Fame connection to the horse, is also in town to run Game On Dude in the Belmont. Baffert said of Point Given, “He’s the best one I’ve ever led over for the Belmont. I wasn’t worried about him getting tired. I knew he’d handle the distance. They can either go that far (1 1/2 miles) or they can’t. You can’t train that into them.”
Owned by the late Prince Ahmed Salman, Point Given serves as a benchmark in the new century in the Belmont, which has seen numerous longshots wear the winning blanket of carnations over the past decade. His was a performance fit for a Triple Crown winner, and his rider and trainer still ponder what could have been had he run his race at Churchill Downs that first Saturday in May.
His Belmont, however, sealed the deal as far as his status in the pantheon of Thoroughbreds, as he proved in that mile and a half that he was indeed a great racehorse.