"The Big Red Train" roars to victory in the Travers.

"The Big Red Train" roars to victory in the Travers.

AP/NYRA/Adam Coglianese

Travers Report: Glory Train

Published in the Sept. 1 issue of The Blood-Horse
Beads of sweat trickled down the face of Prince Ahmed Salman as he entered the winner's circle to await his conquering hero. He was so overwhelmed by what he had just witnessed, even the roar of 60,486 appreciative fans, the largest crowd in Saratoga history, was drowned out by the beating of his own heart. When New York governor George Pataki came over to congratulate him, the Prince took the governor's hand and placed it against his chest. "Feel this," he said to Pataki.

"His heart was beating probably 140 times a minute," Pataki said a few minutes later after returning to his box.

When Gary Stevens returned aboard "The Big Red Train" and saluted the huge crowd, he was greeted by a wall of noise that exploded from the grandstand and apron. The prince, meanwhile, didn't know who to hug and kiss next.

The source of this eruption of emotions was the mighty Point Given, whose powerful victory in the $1-million Travers Stakes (gr. I) on Aug. 25 catapulted him into the realm of superstardom.

Point Given had come to Saratoga surrounded by forces that were conspiring to assure his defeat. Above him stirred the ghosts of the countless great horses who were buried in the "Graveyard of Favorites." Beneath him was an often troublesome left hind foot, protected by a cumbersome bar shoe. Around him were racing titans D. Wayne Lukas, Bobby Frankel, and Nick Zito, all of whom were intent on derailing this runaway express train, which had been hurtling back and forth across the country picking off one million-dollar race after another.

But with Point Given, it matters little what negative forces encompass him. It's what's in the middle that counts. That's where you'll find his enormous heart and a ground-devouring stride that allows him to glide over racetracks with the ease of a surfer catching the perfect wave. That's also where you'll find a 17-hand, 1,280-pound frame that is designed to dwarf and intimidate the opposition. Although he is a gentle giant in his stall, you never know which step is going to turn into a launch pad for liftoff. Despite spending more time perpendicular to the ground than any horse in memory, Point Given's morning shenanigans never enter the field of battle.

After winning the Aug. 5 Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) by a hard-fought half-length over an opponent with only four career starts, Point Given returned to Del Mar with questions hanging over his head. The one most asked was: Will he run in the historic Travers Stakes? Trainer Bob Baffert was noncommittal. He told New York Racing Association racing secretary Mike Lakow he needed a week to watch the colt's foot.

Finally, all systems were go following a sharp five-furlong work the Monday before the race. The waiting was over, as Baffert, Salman, and manager Dick Mulhall made it official. Point Given was on his way.

Nowhere is the Thoroughbred more revered than in Saratoga, a town which still retains the flamboyance and charm of a bygone era. And when the aura of greatness invades the Spa, it spreads like some intoxicating lure. When Point Given stepped off the van four days before the race, that lure began to reach out far beyond the Adirondacks, and a record crowd was all but assured.

Point Given would be meeting A P Valentine and Dollar Bill, who had already felt the big colt's wrath in the Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I). But there was a new foe to reckon with. Although Godolphin's diminutive colt E Dubai looked like Jack next to the giant, he had been tearing through Belmont Park like a desert wind. The presence of E Dubai meant the Travers could very well come down to a battle between friendly rivals Salman of Saudi Arabia, owner of The Thoroughbred Corp., and Godolphin's Sheikh Mohammed.

E Dubai was coming off a spectacular victory in the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II), in which he sizzled the first six furlongs in 1:07.93 under no urging from Jerry Bailey. Assistant trainer Tom Albertrani watched him train for the Travers and was convinced the son of Mr. Prospector was sitting on a huge effort. After seeing him merrily bounce along with his tail flying in a gallop the day before the race, Albertrani just rolled his eyes and said from atop his pony, "He's a time bomb waiting to go off."

(Chart, Equibase)

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