Steve Haskin's April 9 Derby Report: Point Given Nears Perfection

Steve Haskin's April 9 Derby Report: Point Given Nears Perfection
Photo: AP/Benoit Photo
Point Given, romping to victory in the Santa Anita Derby.
It's rare to see perfection in a young colt prepping for the Kentucky Derby, but that's just about what we saw from Point Given in the Santa Anita Derby. Frankly, we can't think of anything left for this colt to prove. Taking every factor into consideration, other than soundness, we've got a horse who has the right trainer; the right jockey; the right pedigree; is a dual qualifier; is not only bigger and stronger than his opponents, but is also quicker and faster; can come from the clouds, lay in mid-pack, or stalk the leaders; can handle dry and wet tracks; and has already shown he likes Churchill Downs.

By getting beaten a nose in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he doesn't have the stigma of winning that race or being the 2-year-old champion hanging over his head. After annihilating his opponents on Saturday, all that was left was to watch the head-on replay to see how straight he ran through the stretch. He chose a path several yards off the rail and never left it the entire length of the stretch.

Gary Stevens, having looked back a couple of times on the far turn for any sign of competition, just waved his stick at Point Given, who drew off with ease, while striding out magnificently in the final furlong. His final time was a razor-sharp 1:47 3/5. Stevens, concerned that the colt might not have had to work hard enough to get him good and tight for the Derby, gave him a little back-handed flick of the whip across the shoulder after crossing the wire, then smooched to him two or three times. The big chestnut continued on with good energy, widening his margin with every stride. We timed that last eighth galloping out in :13.38, which is technically :13 1/5, but more realistically :13 2/5. That means Point Given galloped out the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles in either 2:00 4/5 or 2:01, depending on how you want to look at it. Either way, they rarely run the Derby that fast. He also came home his final quarter in :24 3/5 and final eighth in :12 1/5.

Crafty C.T., a classy front-runner who was considered by many as a major threat in this race, had no answer when the big chestnut train roared alongside him between the five-eighths and half-mile pole. When Point Given opened a clear lead on the turn, one might have thought a horse with his humongous stride might lose interest and begin to pull himself up. But he was all business and just kept pouring it on. Crafty C.T.'s trainer Howard Zucker was effusive in his praise for the winner. "Bet your Triple Crown money now," he said. "If this horse doesn't win the Triple Crown, there's something wrong. He was scary when he won the San Felipe and he's twice as scary now. Those guys back there better watch out. If anybody comes out of this race to go back there, they're out of their mind. Look at him, he's a tree."

Well, you remember what Alfred Joyce Kilmer said about trees: "...only God can make a tree." Now, it's up to the Derby gods to decide what they have in store for this big oak on the first Saturday in May.

After a solo performance like this, Bob Baffert will no doubt put some serious works into Point Given over the next four weeks. Thoro-Graph's Jerry Brown said it's difficult to get a good line on the Santa Anita Derby this quickly because of the drying out track and small field, but he figures Point Given should get somewhere around a "1" after getting a "2 1/2" in the San Felipe. (Under Thoro-Graph's system, the lower number indicates the better performance.) From a speed figure standpoint, Point Given has reached about as far down the well as most horses can. But with him, it looks as if he hasn't even come close to hitting the bottom, which is why Brown believes Baffert has left enough in the tank to put three more enormous efforts into the colt. No one wants to come out and say it, but that spells a very tough horse for the entire Triple Crown series.

Tony Allevato, executive producer of TVG, shared an interesting tidbit of information with us. If Point Given wins the Kentucky Derby, Gary Stevens will become the first jockey in history to ride a father and son to victory in the Run for the Roses. Stevens rode 24-1 shot Thunder Gulch to win the 121st Derby in 1995. As rare as that is, Jerry Bailey has the same opportunity if he sticks with Hero's Tribute. Sea Hero, sire of Hero's Tribute, won the 1993 Derby under Bailey at 13-1 odds.

As for the others in the Santa Anita Derby, it's hard to tell if they simply were outrun or didn't care for the wet track, which did seem to favor speed most of the day. Earlier on the card, we saw Tribunal, coming off a third in the Santa Anita Handicap, make a strong run at the leaders on the far turn of the San Bernardino Handicap, only to fizzle out in the stretch and finish a well-beaten third. In the Santa Anita Derby, I Love Silver made a similar run, in which he split horses at the five-sixteenths pole and quickly burst into contention. It looked as if he we were going to give Point Given a run for his money, but he too flattened out, finishing a well-beaten third.

Palmeiro, who we felt would run a much better race, never was in the hunt at any point. So, it looks as if we're only going to get one horse coming out of the race.

Continued. . . .

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