Article published in the Dec. 23 Blood-Horse
They had complained long enough. Now, after battling the routine grind and stress of more than two decades in the saddle, Gary Stevens' knees were telling him they could take no more. This time, with the pain surpassed only by the throbbing ache in his soul, Stevens listened. And so it was, that somber afternoon a Christmas ago, that Stevens, with the years of suffering now too much to bear, decided to walk away, abruptly ending one of the most prolific riding careers the sport has ever seen. But as months slowly passed, in his heart remained a constant pang, a yearning still for the competition, for the hope, for the glory. It was a hunger for that ineffable rush he experienced on fillies like Delicate Vine, Winning Colors, and Serena's Song that kept Stevens focused. It was the hunger for that sense of invincibility he had with Silver Charm, and the confidence he felt on Thunder Gulch, that kept him believing. In the end, it was that hunger that brought him back. "Certain horses send chills down the back of your neck when you feel certain things that they are capable of doing," Stevens said. "It takes really something special to give me that feeling." And it was exactly what he felt the moment he ascended the stately Point Given for the very first time. Stevens instantly admired the colt's competitive nature. He practically purred after feeling the nimble yet mighty strides beneath him. When the son of Thunder Gulch closed from another time zone and nearly mowed down Macho Uno in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), Stevens caught a glimpse of the future. "I haven't sat on too many horses on the dirt that have the type of acceleration that he does when you call on him," the Hall of Famer confessed. "The ground he made up on Breeders' Cup Day just in the last 10 strides was devastating. With what he did in the Breeders' Cup and what he overcame on a speed-favoring kind of racetrack, I knew I was sitting on something very special." The future is now. Though the $345,690 Hollywood Futurity (gr. I), a lucrative and unfailing proving ground for Triple Crown aspirants, could muster a mere quartet on Dec. 16, Point Given's one-length decision over newcomer Millennium Wind left many in the house with the notion both colts will be producing some major fireworks in the months ahead. By virtue of breeding, Point Given--a son of a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner--and Millennium Wind, a half-brother to one, both stand to adore the incremental road to the 10 furlongs of the Derby and beyond. They've got looks that could stop a clock, each manifesting a deep well of talent the instant they hit the track (just ask anyone who watched Point Given gallop out after his 5 1/2-furlong debut at Del Mar or caught Millennium Wind's maiden romp in mid-November). But that was all Millennium Wind had under his belt by the time he crossed paths with Point Given, who by contrast had spanned the country during the fall prior to his razor-thin loss in Louisville. "The Breeders' Cup race took nothing out of him," trainer Bob Baffert said of The Thoroughbred Corp. homebred. "He never ran but the last quarter of a mile. He galloped behind a wall of horses the whole way and never got to run." There would be no traffic troubles in the 1 1/16-mile Futurity, and as expected, Point Given fell out of contention early. Millennium Wind, a son of Cryptoclearance and a half to Charismatic, flashed his inherent speed and gunned to the front, where he was met by recent maiden winner Golden Ticket. It didn't take long, however, for Point Given to jump into the mix. He rambled to the leaders on the backstretch, a move that told Stevens the race was in the bag. With Millennium Wind showing the way, they raced as a knot to the quarter pole, where Golden Ticket finally threw in the towel. Stevens, aware of Point Given's proclivity for goofiness on the lead, tried to keep the big guy on a leash as long as possible. Millennium Wind helped the cause, putting up a good fight at the rail. The momentum, though, belonged to Point Given, who ignored the game plan altogether and took command on his own. When Stevens finally let go, he bounded away like a gazelle, crossing the line in a nonchalant 1:42.21. "The last sixteenth of a mile he was in a high canter, and he wasn't extending himself any whatsoever," Stevens said later. "He was running, it felt like to me, 65 or 70% of what he's capable of the last sixteenth today. He wasn't running at all. He was gearing himself down and just absolutely playing with 'em." Not to be cast aside was the performance of Millennium Wind, which threw him right in the heart of the Triple Crown action and left trainer Dave Hofmans with nothing but smiles. "He had to run the whole race," he said. "When he matures and grows up, I think you're just going to start hearing about him." Working in his favor is his trainer, an already proven commodity on the classic trail (see Touch Gold). Baffert, oppositely, was simply relieved, yet voluble all the same in his praise of his third Futurity winner of the last four years. "He's as good as Real Quiet, Silver Charm, and Captain Steve at this point," said Baffert, unsure of where exactly Point Given will surface next. "When you have a horse like that, it's a matter of keeping him sound, doing the right thing for him." The same can be said for Stevens, who views his return to the saddle as nothing short of a miracle. Kneewise, he's perfect, feeling better than he has in recent years. Consequently, he can concentrate on greater matters--like becoming the first rider in history to guide a colt, and later the prodigal son, to victory in the Kentucky Derby. Stevens feels like he's got the horse to pull it off. "He reminds me a lot of his daddy, but he's further along now than Thunder Gulch was," Stevens said, recalling the '95 Derby champ's outlaw reputation. "Thunder Gulch didn't want to learn. He was like, 'No, we're gonna do it my way or no way at all.' This colt doesn't have any of those tendencies. He's like a Shaquille O'Neal that is just an athlete and he's bigger than the rest of 'em. And he's only gonna get better."