Travers Report (Cont.)

Continued from part 1


NYRA could not have asked for a better day for the big race, with blue skies and a pleasant breeze. As the day progressed, it was as if each breeze blew Point Given a little bit closer to his adoring fans. Finally, it was time for the nine starters to make their way to the paddock. Point Given, stabled in John Terranova's barn, crossed Union Avenue and approached the gauntlet of fans that had lined up five and six deep along the horse path leading to the paddock.

With a steady chorus of cheers resounding from both sides, and hundreds of cameras going off within a few feet of him, Point Given never raised a hair. Every so often, someone would shout, "The Big Red Train." Those seeing him close up for the first time would let out with a simple "Wow!" Others commented, "He is beautiful," or "Look at the size of that horse." One person, obviously from New York City, said right in the colt's ear, "Let's see what you got, tough guy." Point Given appeared oblivious to it all, looking straight ahead as if he were in a zone.

As he did before the Haskell, Point Given got worked up at the gate, and was led in first. When the gates opened, Point Given was tossing his head backward and he broke a step slowly. Stevens quickly got him into contention and settled him in fifth as they headed into the first turn. Free of Love held a narrow lead over E Dubai, with A P Valentine, Scorpion, Point Given, and Harrisand bunched up right behind.

Down the backstretch, after an opening quarter in :23.73 and a half in :47.70, Stevens let the big colt ease his way right up behind the leaders. This is where Point Given uses his humongous stride to effortlessly move into striking position. With a sharp third quarter in :23 and change, the big chestnut was in position to take control. Around the far turn, E Dubai put Free of Love away and kicked on, but Point Given was already breathing down his neck.

"Jerry was going along very relaxed on E Dubai, but he could sense someone at his hip," Stevens said. "When he looked over and saw who it was who was clocking him, he kinda did a double take. He urged E Dubai to pick up the pace, which he did. He peeked over again at the three-eighths pole, and I was closer to him than I was at the half-mile pole. He must have felt like he did on Congaree in the Preakness."

Point Given charged up alongside E Dubai turning for home and the battle was on. It was the prince and the sheikh eyeball to eyeball, although this was such a physical mismatch, Point Given's eyeballs were well above E Dubai's ears. There was no doubt "The Intimidator" was in total control. As they neared the eighth pole, Point Given was stuck on his left lead, so Stevens brought him out a bit to give himself more room, then yanked the big colt back to the inside, causing him to switch to his right lead.

Point Given eased clear, then continued to draw off, winning comfortably by 3 1/2 lengths in a sharp 2:01.40 for the 1 1/4 miles. It was his fourth consecutive victory in a million-dollar race. Dollar Bill, making his first start since the Belmont Stakes, closed well out in the middle of the track to grab the show spot from A P Valentine by three-quarters of a length.

The outpouring of emotion as Point Given returned will be included for all time among the many indelible sights and sounds that make up the glorious history of Saratoga. Salman tried to make his way back to the interview tent, but was mobbed by autograph seekers. As he did after the Haskell, he dedicated the victory to his brother, who died last month at the age of 46. "I'm sure he's watching this from heaven," he said.

Baffert, who publicly thanked his crew for all the work they've put in with this enigmatic superstar, also credited the prince. "Point Given is his creation," he said. "This horse just keeps amazing me. I've never seen anything like him. He knows he's a great horse; he knows he's cool. He just does things so much easier than the horses I've had in the past."

For Point Given, it was just another day at the office. He cooled out beautifully afterward and dove into his hay rack. The following morning, he stood at his webbing staring at all the activity, showing no signs of the previous day's battle. As soon as his groom Roberto Luna arrived, he took a playful lunge at him, as if he were looking for more action and resented being kept waiting.

As the big red colt was being walked, his chestnut coat glistening in the morning sun, Mike Gatsas, who has several horses with Terranova, including Gander, looked on and could only wonder what it would be like to have a horse like this. "He's a monster," he said. "It's great to be a part of it. If I hang around him long enough maybe some of it will rub off."

But the effect Point Given has on people was best illustrated by two visitors, Libby Wheatley, from Western Massachusetts, and Jane Ante, from California. With their disposable cameras clicking away, they couldn't believe they actually were in the presence of the mighty Point Given. Exercise rider Pepe Aragon held the colt as Wheatley went over and pet him on the neck. "My God, I touched him," she said. "He takes your breath away. Seeing him close up is just amazing." Ante said it was "better than seeing Tom Cruise." As Wheatley stepped away from her hero and tried to absorb all she had just experienced, she said in all sincerity, "This is the thrill of my life."

Somewhere, there was a prince who felt the same way.

(Chart, Equibase)