It was a day of princes, presidents, and Pegasus.
With Belmont Park rocking from the surge of electricity generated by the presence of former President Bill Clinton and his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Point Given finally sprouted the wings his owner, Prince Ahmed Salman, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Gary Stevens had envisioned all along.
It was supposed to have happened in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), carrying the towering chestnut to the first Triple Crown sweep since Affirmed in 1978. But Point Given was grounded the first Saturday in May by a variety of reasons. He's tried his best to get everyone to forget that day, but he's gone about it the wrong way.
By winning the Preakness (gr. I) with relative ease and coming back to annihilate his opponents by 12 1/4 lengths in the 133rd Belmont Stakes (gr. I) on June 9, the colt has only called more attention to that dark day in May for Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp. The more he dominates his opponents, the larger the Derby defeat will loom in the history books and in the minds of the prince, Baffert, and Stevens, who are still trying to come to terms with it.
Even following Point Given's spectacular performance in the Belmont, they continued to ponder what went wrong in Kentucky. And it seems apparent that the more the colt accomplishes, the more they are doomed to the lifelong curse of what might have been, just as the connections of Native Dancer were nearly a half century ago. They now know they were right in their lofty expectations, and as a result, each subsequent Herculean effort by Point Given has brought a bittersweet aftermath.
"The Derby defeat is going to be disappointing forever, knowing that racing probably was deprived of a Triple Crown winner," Stevens said.
And that comment was made more than a week before the Belmont. As darkness fell on Belmont Day, an emotional Stevens left the track, still carrying that faded image of the Triple Crown in his mind. "It's not for myself; it's for the prince," said Stevens, whom Salman called his "close friend," and who holds a "very soft spot" in the prince's heart. "You have to understand," Stevens added, "the Kentucky Derby is the ultimate for the prince, and I really wanted it for him."
But Triple Crown or no Triple Crown, it was a day to remember, as 73,857 fans poured through the gates, a new attendance record for a non-Triple Crown Belmont Stakes. And when it was over, the talk was not of opportunities lost, but of a magnificent Thoroughbred who left Belmont Park awash with a flood of memories that brought back visions of Secretariat and Forego, and other superstars who have jolted the great track.
Abraham Lincoln once told the nation in regard to the Civil War, "I am not concerned that you have fallen. I am concerned that you arise." Point Given arose from the depths of the Derby like the aforementioned winged Pegasus and stamped his name in the history books with one of the most dominating performances in years.
The son of Thunder Gulch, known around the barn as the Big Red Train and T-Rex, not only is trying to obliterate the Kentucky Derby debacle from everyone's mind with his extraordinary speed, power, and grace, he's also attempting diversionary tactics with his mischievous behavior. He rears straight up without warning, and manages to inflict more wounds on his massive body than an 8-year-old boy crawling through a briar patch.
A little over a week before the Belmont, the colt, whom Baffert said has aged him 10 years, suffered a cut over his eye after "trying to kill himself" in his stall at Churchill Downs. After being stitched up, he was tranquilized, and soon after, began acting colicky. Baffert had Point Given's stomach lubricated and walked him for an hour. Afraid that eating hay might create gas, Baffert removed his hay rack for the night and left some alfalfa in the corner of his stall. At 12:30 a.m., the grooms heard a horse "screaming around the barn area." It seemed Point Given had gotten so hungry, he was trying to reach a few pieces of hay on the floor outside his stall. He managed to get his knee and head under the webbing, and when he came up, he broke the snaps on the wall, bending one of the screw eyes. As he was getting to his feet with the webbing now gone, he rubbed against the screw eye, causing a long gash on the right side of his body. After a few seconds of freedom, he was caught by the grooms.
At Santa Anita in April, the colt threw his exercise rider on the track and ran through the stable area without a bridle, charging right past The Thoroughbred Corp.'s racing manager, Richard Mulhall, who was standing by the rail drinking coffee. Such is life with Point Given. "He never gives you a chance to take a breath and relax," Baffert said. "He's like a big playful kid and you have to watch him."
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