Belmont and Preakness Wins Are Nice, But Derby Loss Lingers

Winning two legs of the Triple Crown creates a conflicting mix of elation and regret. Minutes after capturing the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) by 12 1/4 lengths, Point Given's trainer Bob Baffert, jockey Gary Stevens, and owner Prince Ahmed Salman still could not shake their disappointing loss in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) five weeks

"I am very excited about his performance today, but it is bittersweet," said Stevens. "When it is all said and done and he is retired eventually, he should have 'Triple Crown winner' next to his name. It is not going to be there, of course."

Don't believe for a minute they weren't thrilled at having dominated Thoroughbred racing's most difficult series. They glowed in the winner's circle while accepting gleaming silver trophies and gushed about the grand chestnut son of Thunder Gulch. But their comments about the race and the conversations of people in the stable area afterward always worked around to "what if."

Trainers who have been down this road said Point Given's team deserved to be proud and should not treat this year's Triple Crown as a bitter pill.

"In my case, if you've never won any of them, then winning one is a wonderful thing," said Frank Brothers, who won the 1991 Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont with Hansel after finishing 10th in the Kentucky Derby. "If you can win two out of three, it is a hell of an achievement."

Louie Roussel III agreed. He swept the 1988 Preakness and Belmont with Risen Star but fell just over three lengths short in the Derby behind Winning Colors and Forty Niner.

"It is so tough to win these races, it is amazing," Roussel said. "It is amazing what you go through leading up to the Derby. It is the toughest because you have to be ready for 1 1/4 miles right out of the box. Then there are two more races that add their own unique challenges. I think it is a fantastic accomplishment."

Baffert and trainer D. Wayne Lukas are tied as the all-time leaders in winning two out of three with horses that have started in each of the Triple Crown races. Point Given is Baffert's third trip down this road, though the others were more gut wrenching. He narrowly missed the Triple Crown with Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998), who both finished second in the Belmont. Lukas also performed the feat three times, with Tabasco Cat (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), and Charismatic (1999).

While people love to talk about the one that got away, Lukas said winning two of the Triple Crown races is no small accomplishment.

"It is not a footnote on your résumé by any means," he said. "It jumps right out in bold letters. Any way you want to judge your achievements in racing, that is one of the ones you'll point to. You don't need to win more than one."

And yet a distinction exists between horses that win one Triple Crown race and those that win two. A horse that wins one is remembered for its victory. When a horse wins two, it is remembered for the losing race. Baffert was asked on a couple occasions to explain Point Given's loss in the Kentucky Derby.

"It is one of those things we'll never figure out," Baffert said. "It wasn't his day. It didn't happen. If you keep looking back, you'll drive yourself crazy."

Surely, no disappointment is greater than losing the Triple Crown by a narrow margin in the Belmont. But ranking a very close second is a first-round loss in the Kentucky Derby. If there is one Triple Crown race to win, many trainers agreed the Derby is the one.

"It is not chopped liver, the Belmont," Brothers said. "The horses have never gone that far and carried the weight. But I do think the crown jewel is the Derby and you go from there."