Steve Haskin's Belmont Wrapup (Cont.)

Continued from part 1

Although there was no Triple Crown at stake this year, the Belmont still was creating interest as the rubber match between Point Given and Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, and also featured Derby and Preakness runners-up Invisible Ink and A P Valentine, respectively.

While Monarchos was sent to Belmont Park a few days after the Preakness, Point Given didn't ship until the Wednesday before the race. After arriving at JFK International Airport at 9:30 a.m., the big chestnut stepped onto the ramp leading down to the van and let out a loud whinny, as if he were announcing his arrival. Exercise rider Pepe Aragon, standing alongside the ramp, said, "If he gets a good trip, they'll never beat him."

Stevens and Baffert also were confident the 1 1/2-mile Belmont would be the stage for Point Given's greatest performance. "Bob and I are really expecting him to put on a show," Stevens said a week before the race.

Awaiting Point Given was trainer John Terranova, in whose barn he would stay, as he had done the previous fall for the Champagne Stakes (gr. I). "I'm padding the walls," Terranova joked the previous morning. On his first day to the track, as Point Given prepared to go out, Terranova might have wished he weren't kidding after the colt reared up in the barn, causing Aragon to dismount. For the two mornings Point Given went to the track, photographers and cameramen lined up in preparation for any possible antics. The atmosphere can best be described as a NASCAR crowd waiting for the crash. But it never happened. Equipped with a lip cord for better control, Point Given was a perfect gentleman going to and from the track.

The key to Point Given is not allowing him time to think about doing something wild. As he walked back to the barn that first morning, Baffert yelled to Aragon and assistant Jim Barnes on the pony, "Keep him going, keep him going." As he came off the track, photographers began to gather at the gap, and Baffert, watching from the trainer's stand, said to no one in particular, but directing his comment to Aragon and Barnes, "Pretend you're a New York City taxi driver. Just run 'em down." Finally, as Point Given walked calmly into the barn, Baffert let out a sigh of relief. "OK, we got him back in the corral," he said.

In addition to the first two finishers of the Derby and Preakness, the Belmont field also included the Derby and Preakness fourth-place finishers, Thunder Blitz and Dollar Bill, respectively, in addition to Balto Star, Buckle Down Ben, and the English import Dr Greenfield, whose Team Valor syndicate members all wore stethoscopes around their necks on the day of the race.

Belmont morning arrived with blue, sunny skies and a slight chill in the air. The majority of the nine Belmont starters all spent a quiet morning in the shed. One of the exceptions was A P Valentine, who went out for a light jog the wrong way. John Ward, trainer of Monarchos, was feeling better about the race after being given a sign that morning from his gray colt. The day before, Ward had been looking at a photo of Monarchos hanging on his wall, taken after his victory in the Florida Derby (gr. I). Ward liked this photo because of the "keen look" in Monarchos' eye.

"I couldn't figure out this week what it was I didn't like about the horse," he said. "Then I realized it was that I haven't seen that shiny look. He had more of a stress look across his face. Late yesterday morning, he yawned and just laid there. And then this morning, he had that same confident look in his eye he had in the photo, which made me feel a lot better."

Another confident trainer was Dallas Stewart, who was just hoping the hard-luck Dollar Bill finally would get a clean trip. While walking the shed, Dollar Bill stopped and looked right at Stewart. The trainer reached into his pocket, took out a handful of change, and shook it. "Hey, I don't want no more change," he said to the horse. "I want the whole dollar today."

Some of the others had their game face on. Dr Greenfield took a bite out of trainer Gerard Butler's arm, and Thunder Blitz kicked the wall of the barn while walking the shed. "I was holding my breath watching him walk back to his stall," trainer Joe Orseno said.

At D. Wayne Lukas' barn, the Hall of Fame trainer was hoping Buckle Down Ben would give him his second straight longshot victory in the Belmont. "If we pull this off today, it'll get pretty quiet up in that press box," he said. "I heard that last year you could hear a pin drop."

If there was an omen of things to come, it occurred the day before the race when a cast member of the Broadway show Les Miserables performed on the track apron, singing the show's hit song, "On My Own." The next day, Point Given would give new meaning to those words.

Sent off the 6-5 favorite, Point Given broke from the outside post, as he had done in the Derby and Preakness. Monarchos and A P Valentine were 5-1. The start was delayed when Dr Greenfield went into a frenzy behind the gate. After a clean break, Stevens put Point Given right up near the pace in third, about two lengths behind pacesetting Balto Star and the tracking Buckle Down Ben. Victor Espinoza was clocking Point Given while aboard A P Valentine, with Monarchos in seventh, but only seven lengths off the pace. After a half in :48, Point Given went his next two quarters in under :24 to reach the mile marker in a brisk 1:35.56. It was obvious at this point the big chestnut was in complete control. "He was pretty much galloping all the way to the quarter pole," Stevens said.

Point Given disposed of the two leaders under no encouragement at all from Stevens, who gave a peek back over his right shoulder. A P Valentine, who had to be pushed hard to keep up, moved up to challenge around the five-sixteenths pole, but it was all Point Given, who drew off with every stride. Despite the domination, Stevens still hit him a dozen times with the whip in the stretch. "He actually was idling with me a little and I thought somebody had to be coming," he said. "I didn't know how far in front I was at the eighth pole and I didn't care. I knew he was going to get a rest afterward, and it was important for everybody to see how good he is."

Point Given kept pouring it on, completing the mile and a half in 2:26.56 (2:26 2/5), which equaled the fourth-fastest Belmont ever. A P Valentine dug in gamely and held off Monarchos for second by three-quarters of a length, with Dollar Bill another length back in fourth.

Continued . . . .

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