We're going to venture out on that precarious and proverbial limb, even at the risk of leaving certain trainers dumfounded over our out-of-the-norm audacity.
First off, you can speculate all you want why Point Given lost the Kentucky Derby. Yes, he was close to a torrid pace; yes the track was lightning fast, and may have been too hard for his liking. Whether or not they contributed to his defeat we can only guess. What we do know for sure is that the horse came into the Derby off only two starts in 2001, both cakewalks against relatively soft fields. Crafty C.T. is a top sprinter/miler, but no match for a horse like Point Given going nine furlongs.
Point Given also worked before the Derby in :58 1/5, blazing his final quarter in :22 flat, which had to put him on edge for the race. Let's just assume, whether it's correct or not, that Point Given simply had not yet reached his peak on the first Saturday in May, and had the misfortune of running smack into the second-fastest time in Derby history and a seasoned horse sitting on a monster performance. Basically, Point Given ran like a horse who needed one more race under him, preferably a tough one. Would he have won anyway had Gary Stevens managed to take him back over a track he obviously didn't care for? Well, he would have had to run a 1:59 3/5 mile and a quarter to do so.
Stevens did all he could from the 17-post. In addition, he knew Congaree was the horse to beat, and he wasn't about to let the son of Arazi get the upper hand the way he did against Monarchos in the Wood. Plus, it's not easy wrapping up on a horse and taking him 15 lengths back when he's fresh, coming off only two starts and a four-week layoff, and also coming off a :58 1/5 work – one in which he was being asked to put away his stablemate.
Point Given's work before the Preakness was a totally different story, as he did everything on his own, with the rider never moving her hands. When he stepped off the van in Baltimore, we were amazed how good his coat looked, and how little the Derby took out of him. Unlike the Derby, he was now ready for his top effort.
With all that said, after watching the Preakness numerous times and breaking down the chart, we have come to one conclusion. You can take all the talk of pasterns and cracked heels and whatever ailments he's supposed to have, and trash them. If he shows up for the Belmont, we're going to assume he's sound and close to 100 percent. We're not going to be brazen enough to state emphatically that the son of Thunder Gulch is the biggest lock in the Belmont Stakes since Secretariat. But if we were going to base any conclusions from watching the replays of the Preakness, dissecting the fractions of the race, and taking into account the colt's versatility and running style, it would be that Point Given should not only win, but dominate his opponents in the Belmont.
This is not meant to downplay the talents of Monarchos and A P Valentine, or Invisible Ink, Dollar Bill, Thunder Blitz, and the other top-class horses pointing for the race. If Point Given is not at his best, any one of them can win and it wouldn't be a surprise. Surely, Monarchos' Derby victory has earned its rightful place in the history books. But the Belmont is a totally different ballgame. Versatility and the ability to cruise at high speeds often plays a big part in winning the race.
The fact is, Point Given, after running his opening quarter of the Preakness in :25 4/5, blazed his next half-mile in an amazing :46 flat (a pair of :23 quarters), while racing wide the entire way. And he seemed to be doing it effortlessly. Then, despite running a portion of his next quarter weaving, ducking, and gawking, not to mention racing on his wrong lead, he still managed to go in :24 3/5. In the final three-sixteenths, his mind obviously was elsewhere, as Stevens tried every trick in the book to straighten him out and get him to change leads. It wasn't until inside the sixteenth pole that he finally succeeded, but Point Given still came home in a solid :19 flat, throwing his ears up right before the wire, as if he were doing it all for fun. Any horse who can run a :46 half within the body of a classic race with the ease in which Point Given did and still win decisively, despite goofing off the length of the stretch, is a very special talent.
In short, Point Given's performance was much more dominant than the 2 1/4-length margin indicated. With his humongous, loping strides, and his ability to sweep by horses at any point in the race while seemingly on cruise control, Point Given looks to be the perfect Belmont Stakes horse. It is the one race that would afford him the opportunity to outdistance his opponents, much like other powerful, long-striding horses such as Secretariat, Easy Goer, and Risen Star. That's why he's the one horse capable of turning the Belmont into a rout. The feeling here is that with such a vast expanse, Point Given will have less to look at and run a more professional race.
It may seem as if we are underestimating Monarchos, who simply couldn't handle the Pimlico surface. That's not the case at all. As we said, it's strictly a matter of style. The son of Maria's Mon does not do things as effortlessly as Point Given, and the far turn at Belmont Park is a lot less forgiving than the turns at Gulfstream and Churchill Downs. We call it the turn of no return. A horse must be able to cruise around there, much like Forego used to do, if he's to have any chance of circling the field and still have enough left in the final quarter mile. We've seen too many horses ridden hard around that big, sweeping turn, blowing by horses as if they were standing still, only to flatten out after turning for home.
Unlike Point Given, who has the ability to pick off horses at cruising speed, Monarchos has always been pushed along by Jorge Chavez a long way out. That he's been able to sustain that kind of move and draw off from his opponents is testimony to his extraordinary talent. The question is, can he rebound off the Preakness and not expend too much energy around Belmont's demanding far turn?
A P Valentine finally ran the kind of race we've been waiting for all year, and again he didn't have the smoothest of trips. But now many people will be looking to hop on the bandwagon. The son of A.P. Indy has already shown he likes Belmont, and apparently is at his best finding holes to run through. He is one-for-one against Point Given over "Big Sandy;" he's finally primed to run the race of his life; and his pedigree is the strongest in the field going a mile and a half. We know he has the talent to beat anyone on his best day, and we're looking for another huge race from him, especially if he can get clear sailing this time. If any one factor can bring down Point Given, other than Point Given himself, it is A P Valentine's stamina, combined with the excellent pattern he's now on.
If you want to see Belmont Park bust open at the seams and rock like it hasn't in years, then root for A P Valentine and Zito to win the Belmont Stakes. It will be quite a memorable New York scene afterward.
We believe Point Given is going to be a huge favorite, perhaps close to even-money, so A P Valentine still would be the value play on a straight win bet. No way we're going to go off him now that he's finally gotten his act together. Sometimes you have to go with your heart. Plus, his form finally looks darn good.
But with Point Given apparently having bounced out of the Preakness in super shape, all signs point to one conclusion: If he runs close to his best race in the Belmont, and he gets a good trip, we just don't see how Point Given can be beaten.