ARCADIA, Calif. - With an exclamation point, a shout and a warning to every other 3-year-old, Point Given affirmed his status as Kentucky Derby favorite yesterday with an emphatic victory in the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park.
The gargantuan chestnut colt rambled to a 5 1/2 -length triumph in the race that has produced three of the last four Kentucky Derby winners. Point Given's performance was so overpowering that observers immediately began looking beyond the Derby to the Preakness and Belmont.
"Regarding the winner, bet your Triple Crown money now," said Howard Zucker, trainer of runner-up Crafty C.T. "If this horse doesn't win the Triple Crown, there's something wrong."
Point Given entered the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby as co-favorite for the Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, who races next Saturday in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. Now, no matter what Monarchos does, Point Given will bull his way into Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., as the bettors' choice the first Saturday in May.
Despite his reputation as a closer, Point Given broke sharply from the inside post under his Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. Crafty C.T., the lightly raced speedster, led into the first turn of the 1 1/8 -mile race. Point Given snipped at his heels.
Stevens steered Point Given outside Crafty C.T. as they entered the backstretch. As Point Given loped along in second, Stevens felt the familiar swell of confidence.
"Just like in the San Felipe," Stevens said, referring to his colt's monstrous victory three weeks ago in the San Felipe Stakes, "I felt like I had a loaded cannon, and all I had to do was pull the trigger when I wanted to."
Stevens pulled as they approached the far turn. Point Given breezed past Crafty C.T., extended his long legs around the bend in powerful thrusts and then, as if further to prove his point, accelerated down the stretch in romping command.
As the 3-5 favorite, he paid $3.40 to win. His time of 1 minute 47.77 seconds was three-fifths of a second off the stakes record of 1:47 shared by Lucky Debonair (1965), Sham (1973) and Indian Charlie (1998).
Point Given's time was all the more impressive because the track was muddy from overnight and morning rain. This was the first off-track for a Santa Anita Derby in 44 years.
Crafty C.T. (9-5) finished second, followed by I Love Silver (8-1), Palmeiro (10-1), Cherokee Kim (36-1) and Scorpion (21-1). Early Flyer and Startac were scratched, the former because his connections decided to race him next weekend, the latter because his connections didn't like the muddy track.
The exacta returned $6.60, the trifecta $16.40.
For Stevens, this was his eighth Santa Anita Derby victory in the past 14 runnings. Eight victories in the race tied Bill Shoemaker for most wins by a jockey.
For Bob Baffert, this was his fourth Santa Anita Derby victory in the past six runnings. Four victories tied D. Wayne Lukas for most wins by a trainer.
"I didn't know what to expect," Baffert said of Point Given's performance. "What I saw today was that you can put this horse anywhere in the race. You can put him on the lead or take him off the pace. Now he's got the perfect style.
"I just told [Stevens] to bring him back tired so I don't have to do too much with him the next 30 days."
Asked whether he tired out Point Given, Stevens said: "No, I apologized to Bob already. He barely broke out in a sweat."
A son of 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, Point Given has run twice this year after six races as a 2-year-old. Neverworse than second, he has won five of those eight starts.
A huge colt who weighs 1,260 pounds, Point Given covers ground with a seemingly leisurely stride. He is so large, Baffert said, he may intimidate other horses.
"He intimidates us," Baffert said, laughing. "When you pull him out of his stall, he just keeps coming out. He's playful. He does everything so effortlessly.
"We've got a long road ahead of us. We'll keep our fingers crossed. But if he's as good [at the Kentucky Derby] as he was today, we've got nothing to worry about."
NOTES: The ageless jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. won the Grade II $150,000 Arcadia Handicap with Lazy Lode, the 1-2 favorite trained by Richard Mandella. A 7-year-old Argentine-bred, Lazy Lode completed the 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:49.74, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of the 9-1 Night Patrol. ... The 6-year-old gelding Futural captured the Grade II $150,000 San Bernardino Handicap, a 1 1/8 -mile stakes for older horses. At 7-1 the longest shot in the five-horse field, the Craig Dollase-trained Futural defeated the 2-1 Irisheyesareflying by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:47.87. The 3-2 favorite Tribunal finished third.