Priceless Memories

The loss of a horse the caliber of Point Given is a bitter pill for just about everyone in racing to swallow, and it's a reminder of the challenges this industry faces as it attempts to bring new fans into a sport whose stars are so fleeting.

From a practical standpoint, it will be difficult to say with any sense of confidence how good a racehorse this son of Thunder Gulch was. Based on the Beyer Speed Figures published in Daily Racing Form, Point Given's Aug. 25 triumph in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga was his finest hour. His Beyer for the Travers was 117, one point higher than Horse of the Year Tiznow was given for his victory in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) over Giant's Causeway, and two points better than Fusaichi Pegasus' best Beyer in 2000.

But we will not have the opportunity to see Point Given compete against older horses, which remains the best measure of the quality of a top 3-year-old. His untimely injury also deprives us of a much-anticipated match against Tiznow and European superstar Galileo in the Breeders' Cup Classic. That race also might have provided a rematch with the horse that snatched the Eclipse Award away from Point Given last year, Macho Uno, whose impressive Pennsylvania Derby (gr. III) win Sept. 3 indicates that he is back in form.

The potential syndication or sale of Point Given is expected to value him at upwards of $50 million as a stallion prospect, but, to borrow from a commercial message for a credit card company, much of what the colt has done is "priceless."

With his exciting victories in the Haskell Handicap (gr. I) and Travers, Point Given dragged his breeder and owner, Saudi Arabian Prince Ahmed Salman, out of a depression caused by the death in July of his 46-year-old brother, Prince Fahd Salman. Horses have the magic to do that kind of thing, and Point Given certainly was magical.

He provided something of a sideshow for racing photographers and writers with his early-morning antics, rearing up like a rebel without a cause on his way to and from the racetrack. Point Given was even caught doing some late-night carousing in his barn at Churchill Downs a week before the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) when his voracious appetite prompted him to squeeze beneath the webbing of his stall door and roam the barn in search of food. That kind of behavior put knots in the stomach of his trainer, Bob Baffert.

But the discomfort caused by Point Given's escapades was minor compared with the sinking feeling everyone in the Baffert barn felt when an injury to the colt's tendon was found. Racing fans also felt their pain.

Point Given drew a crowd. His Travers win was witnessed by 60,486 fans at Saratoga, the largest in the track's history. Monmouth Park set an all-time attendance record when Point Given came to the Haskell. Triple Crown attendance was up across the board, with a total of 332,521 coming out to watch the three classics. The Triple Crown's television ratings soared, too, and it wouldn't be fair to say the switch from ABC to NBC and lack of competition from the NBA playoffs was the sole reason for the improvement. The colt had personality and brought star power to the races.

So, while Point Given heads to the breeding shed, American racing looks for its next Big Horse. Was he in a 2-year-old maiden race closing week at Saratoga or Del Mar? Perhaps that was him streaking from California to New York to win the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), the way Came Home did for Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan. Maybe it's California-bred Officer, who carries the same green-and-white silks as Point Given and is trained by Baffert. Whether you're an owner, breeder, or fan of racing, the search for the next Point Given is part of what makes this game so great.

And losing a horse of that caliber? To quote Baffert: "That's the only part of the business that I hate."