New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, right, joined Thoroughbred Corp. owner Ahmed bin Salman, left, and trainer Bob Baffert at the Eclipse Awards dinner.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, right, joined Thoroughbred Corp. owner Ahmed bin Salman, left, and trainer Bob Baffert at the Eclipse Awards dinner.

Point Given Voted 2001 Horse of the Year

Once again, the cheers resounded for Point Given, as the towering chestnut colt was awarded Horse of the Year honors at the 31st annual Eclipse Awards Dinner Feb. 18 at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla.

From California to New York, and stops in between, racing fans came in droves to see "The Big Red Train" as it roared across the country. Except for an unexpected derailment on the first Saturday in May, Point Given carried the sport on his powerful shoulders from March until August. Wherever the Point Given Express stopped, record crowds gathered--at Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) (for a non-Triple Crown year), at Monmouth Park for the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I), and at Saratoga for the Travers Stakes (gr. I). When it all ended abruptly following an injury, Point Given was riding an unprecedented streak of four consecutive $1 million stakes victories.

It was thought by many that the Horse of the Year balloting would be a tight battle between Point Given and the hero of Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), defending Horse of the Year Tiznow. But in the end, Point Given's accomplishments, and the electricity he generated over a five-month period, were far too great an obstacle for Tiznow to overcome. Point Given defeated Tiznow 35-13 in the Daily Racing Form voting, 86-35 in the National Turf Writers Association, and 35-17 in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA).

In the individual horse categories, every division was a clean sweep, with the exception of steeplechase horse. The winners were: Johannesburg (2-year-old male), Tempera (2-year-old filly), Point Given (3-year-old male), Xtra Heat (3-year-old filly), Tiznow (older male), Gourmet Girl (older female), Squirtle Squirt (sprinter), Fantastic Light (turf male), Banks Hill (turf female), and Pompeyo (steeplechaser).

In the people categories, the winners were: Richard Englander (outstanding owner), Juddmonte Farms (outstanding breeder), Bobby Frankel (outstanding trainer), Jerry Bailey (outstanding jockey), and Jeremy Rose (outstanding apprentice jockey).

While Englander was winning his first Eclipse Award, it was the second for Juddmonte, which also won leading owner in 1992; the third for Frankel; and the fifth for Bailey. Special mention must be made of the remarkable accomplishments of Godolphin, which owned 2-year-old filly champ Tempera, male grass champ Fantastic Light, and came within a whisker of winning the older male championship with Sakhee.

In the smattering of Horse of the Year votes that went to other horses besides the top two, Johannesburg received four votes, with Xtra Heat, Sakhee, and Fantastic Light getting one each.

By winning the male turf championship, Fantastic Light became the third consecutive European-based horse to win the title off only one start in the United States. That, of course, was the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). In fact, the Breeders' Cup played its usual dominant role in the voting, as six of the nine winners won their Eclipse as a result of a victory in the Breeders' Cup, three of them being Europeans making their only start in America. And another, Xtra Heat, won the 3-year-old filly championship by virtue of her second-place finish in the Sprint. Pompeyo's victory was unique in that he made only two starts in 2001, the last being on April 27, while Gourmet Girl did not win a race after June 30.

But there was little doubt that the dominant horse of 2001 was Point Given. He was big, he was powerful, and he was handsome. A new generation of horse fans were drawn to him in much the same way past generations were drawn to other big, powerful, handsome red chestnuts Secretariat and Man o' War. The morning after his victory in the Travers, a female fan showed up at his barn and asked to pet him. When she finished, she said sincerely, "This is the thrill of my life." That's the kind of effect Point Given had on people, and it showed in the Horse of the Year voting.

There have been faster horses than Point Given. There have been more durable horses than Point Given. And certainly there have been horses who had better minds than Point Given. As talented as people perceived him, however, his real ability lie hidden in the fractions of his races. In the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), he came home his final eighth in :12 1/5 and galloped out a spectacular mile and a quarter in 2:01. In the Preakness (gr. I), he made a big move down the backstretch, flying by horses with a sensational quarter in :23 1/5. In the mile and a half Belmont Stakes, he turned in back-to-back :23 3/5 quarters, getting to the mile marker in 1:35.56, which left his opponents staggering, and allowed him to sail to a 12 1/4-length victory. The only horse to set a faster mile fraction in the Belmont and win was Secretariat. He turned in a :23 3/5 third quarter in the Haskell, and a :23 2/5 third quarter in the Travers. In short, Point Given was a machine.

But there were other heroes in 2001, who were justly rewarded with Eclipse Awards.

No one will forget Tiznow's Hollywood-scripted finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic, when he once again saved the day for America, defeating a European superhorse. In the 2001 Classic, he ended a three-race European winning streak that looked like it was going to be four until Tiznow reached back for that same miracle he had pulled out the year before.

Voters also shifted categories in order to give the remarkable 3-year-old sprinter Xtra Heat the accolades she was due, while allowing Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Squirtle Squirt to take home the sprint title after narrowly defeating her. The 2-year-old colt championship was a no-brainer, as Johannesburg scored the most exciting victory on an international scale by a young horse since Arazi. And finally, in the 3-year-old colt or gelding division, so dominant was Point Given that he received all 230 votes from the three voting blocs.