Steve Haskin's Preakness Wrapup (Cont.)

As they approached the quarter pole after a half in :47.32 and three-quarters in 1:11.86, Point Given and Congaree ranged up alongside Richly Blended, who was about to call it a day. The Baffert Boys headed for home eyeball-to-eyeball. Stevens and Bailey looked at each other and smiled, then looked back for any signs of Monarchos, who was struggling back in the pack. Point Given then went into his drunken sailor routine, as his big rear end rammed against Congaree. With his head cocked and running on his left lead, he was all over the place as Stevens kept tossing the reins around, trying to straighten him out. Still, he began to draw off, despite trying to gawk at the infield. Stevens gave him a little flick of the whip with his left hand to prevent him from ducking in. Point Given kept increasing his lead, finally changing his leads inside the sixteenth pole.

A P Valentine had split horses and was closing in on Congaree, with Dollar Bill flying on the far outside after going nine-wide turning for home. Point Given was now in full gear, and threw his ears up as he crossed the wire. A P Valentine just got up to beat out Congaree by a neck. It was another 1 1/4 lengths to Dollar Bill, followed by Griffinite and Monarchos, who never did get a hold of the track. The final time over the dull track was 1:55.51.

"Let's go get the silver," Baffert said, as Point Given returned at a full gallop on the grass course. "Hey, Bob," Stevens called. "He loves the turf." While waiting for the cue from NBC to lead the horse into the winner's circle, Baffert called his mother, Ellie, in Nogales, Ariz. "Wish you were here, Momma," he said. "I'll talk to you later. We're gonna go to the winner's circle right now." Baffert then grabbed the reins to lead the colt in, but quickly dropped them. "You know what?" he said. "I'm not leading in that wild s.o.b."

Even in all the revelry, Baffert couldn't help recognize another extraordinary performance by Congaree. "He ran his heart out," he said. "He tried so hard. But Jerry just couldn't get him back off that pace. It just goes to show you how good this horse is."

The following morning, as a salmon-pink sunrise emerged over Old Hilltop, the sound of horse vans roared behind the stakes barn, as horses began moving out. Zito was the first to leave, heading for Belmont Park. Dollar Bill walked the shed and stopped in front of Baffert's stalls after eyeing the blanket of black-eyed susans draped over the railing. As if to finally make a statement and get a piece of the glory he's been denied, he reached over and snatched a black-eyed susan, then walked off, the yellow and black flower protruding from his mouth. Griffinite, emerging as a new star in the making, sported a gash on his left hind leg, the result of being stepped on during the race. The beaming smile on Leigh-Pedersen's face spoke volumes of the pride she had in her horse and the magical experience she had just been part of.

Finally, there was Point Given and Congaree in the exact same positions they had been the previous morning, with the winner's head out the door, checking out everything around him, much as he had done down the stretch of the Preakness.

Now comes the Belmont, and a much-anticipated rematch between Point Given and Monarchos. Congaree likely will not show up following three gut-wrenching races. But there will be heavy support for A P Valentine and Dollar Bill. Awaiting them all will be Kentucky Derby runner-up Invisible Ink and Derby fourth-place finisher Thunder Blitz, along with Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and Turfway Spiral (gr. II) winner Balto Star, Team Valor's English import Dr Greenfield, and possibly Godolphin's E Dubai, a 12 1/2-length winner of a Belmont allowance race May 11.

Despite the victory, certain aspects of the Preakness were bittersweet to Baffert. He wishes Congaree could have held on for a one-two finish, and he now knows that Point Given could possibly have fulfilled Prince Ahmed's Kentucky Derby dream under different circumstances. He also would love to have shared the Preakness victory with the prince in person. "I really wish he could have been here," Baffert said. "It would have been so great for him to be part of it."

But, for Prince Ahmed, it didn't matter whether he was in Baltimore or Riyadh. He still could feel the air of heaven blowing between Point Given's ears.

(Chart, Equibase)

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