At Santa Anita, `Point' well taken

Baffert horse appears primed for victory

April 05, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. - You get the impression out here in Fantasyland that the deal's all done. Suspense has been suspended. Chance has been removed.

You've got the horse. You've got the trainer. You've got the jockey. You've got the race. You've got ... the Kentucky Derby winner?

That Point Given likely will be the odds-on favorite Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby here at Santa Anita Park seems incidental. His victory seems to be a foregone conclusion.

"We just want to get this race out of the way and go on to Kentucky with a sound, fresh horse," said Bob Baffert, Point Given's trainer. "He's got all the ingredients to be a Kentucky Derby winner."

Point Given is clearly the top 3-year-old in the West. He has finished first or second in seven races. He missed winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November by a nose after passing 12 horses in the final five-sixteenths of a mile.

Instead of shutting him down for the winter, Baffert wheeled Point Given right back in December in the Hollywood Futurity. Point Given won. That was his sixth race in four months. He didn't race again for three months.

Baffert said he decided to keep racing Point Given longer at 2 and start him back later at 3 as the best way of having him in peak condition the first Saturday in May.

Point Given is a large horse, perhaps the largest Baffert has ever trained. Baffert reasoned that if he shut down Point Given in early November after the Breeders' Cup, the colt would put so much weight on his large frame that getting him fit again would be arduous.

Baffert could do it by racing him, but it'd probably take three races to have him fit enough for a chance to win the Kentucky Derby. Baffert preferred only two Derby preps, the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.

Baffert also had something else in mind.

He knows how to win the Santa Anita Derby. He has won three of the past five (General Challenge, 1999; Indian Charlie, 1998, and Cavonnier, 1996). And he knows how to win the Kentucky Derby (Real Quiet, 1998, and Silver Charm, 1997, two colts who finished second in the Santa Anita Derby).

But Baffert has not won a Triple Crown. After winning the Kentucky Derby, Silver Charm and Real Quiet won the Preakness but lost the Belmont.

"We're thinking Derby for this horse," Baffert said of Point Given, "but we're also thinking Preakness and Belmont. That's three hard races in five weeks."

Baffert isn't the only seasoned pro in Point Given's corner. His jockey, Gary Stevens, has won five of the past eight Santa Anita Derbies. He also has won three Kentucky Derbies, including the 1995 version with Point Given's sire. Thunder Gulch, after winning that race, finished third in the Preakness and won the Belmont.

"Right after the Breeders' Cup I said I didn't have to look any further for my Derby horse, and I'll stick by that," Stevens said. "He's very, very athletic. He's very nimble on his feet for as big as he is. He can change directions quicker than any horse I've ever sat on.

"I made the comment after the San Felipe that riding him last year he gave me a feeling like a Shaquille O'Neal, long striding, not real, real precocious. And now, he feels like a combination of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the guy who can sit back there and hit three-pointers or slam-dunk it, whatever you want to do."

In the San Felipe, Point Given's first race this year, Stevens followed a simple game plan: Steer Point Given to the outside, keep him out of trouble and let the big horse roll.

"When you've got the best horse," Baffert said, "you keep him outside and let him do his thing."

Point Given's thing was toying with seven opponents for 1 1/16 miles. He shot from fifth to first around the far turn and then coasted home for a 2 1/4 -length victory. Afterward, Stevens said he felt as if he'd been riding a 5-year-old against 2-year-olds.

The runner-up in that race, I Love Silver, will try Point Given again in the Santa Anita Derby. But Dean Greenman, I Love Silver's trainer, has no illusions of an upset.

"I don't think I can knock off the favorite," Greenman said yesterday after his colt drew post No. 2, just outside Point Given.

That inside post for Point Given is the only thing that gives his connections pause. He could get trapped along the rail, or he could be forced out of his game plan as he seeks running room.

"We need some racing luck now that he's drawn the one hole," Baffert said.

Still, Point Given seems assured of the public's backing in a key Triple Crown prep that has produced three of the past four winners of the Kentucky Derby.

"He is the real deal," Baffert said. "The main thing is just keeping him sound."

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