Monarchos bidding to 1-up rival in Wood

Derby and `Point' form race backdrop

April 13, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Yes, he saw it. Indeed, he did.

John Ward Jr. saw Point Given's dazzling effort last weekend in the Santa Anita Derby in Southern California. Point Given dominated the race in smashing fashion, reaffirming his status as early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

"He ran gangbusters," Ward said. "I don't think I could find any holes in his performance whatsoever."

Ward faces the task of trying to match Point Given tit-for-tat when he saddles Monarchos in the Wood Memorial Stakes tomorrow at Aqueduct here in Queens. After drawing post No. 2 yesterday in a six-horse field, Monarchos was made the 4-5 morning-line favorite.

Impressive winner of three straight, including the Florida Derby, Monarchos is Point Given's counterpart in the East. A son of 1995 2-year-old champion Maria's Mon, Monarchos needs a victory in the Wood to gallop into Churchill Downs in three weeks as possible co-favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

"This is the last building block in his preparation," Ward said. "I definitely would love to see him win. What I don't want to see is, I don't want to see him go over the top. I'd hate to see him get into a head-to-head duel or have a speed horse get so far in front that he really has to gut himself to finish out."

Like other top horsemen, Ward learns from the past. Last fall, his classy mare, Beautiful Pleasure, hooked up with Riboletta in the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park. Riboletta won, but both mares ran perhaps the races of their lives. Three weeks later, in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, Beautiful Pleasure finished sixth, Riboletta seventh.

With Monarchos, Ward must address that concern on two fronts.

One, he must ensure that Monarchos doesn't "gut himself" in the Wood so that he has nothing left for Point Given in the Kentucky Derby. Two, he must confront the possibility that Monarchos already has run so powerfully - in the Florida Derby - that he perhaps overextended himself for the Wood.

Ward said he doesn't believe that Monarchos peaked in the Florida Derby. In that $1 million race March 10 at Gulfstream Park, the muscular gray colt charged six-wide from 11th to first around the far turn, and then kept charging to the wire. He won by 4 1/2 lengths.

Having four weeks between races allowed him to lighten up on Monarchos's training, Ward said.

"That gave him plenty of time to get rested up, put the weight back on and get mentally sharp," Ward said.

In the Wood, Monarchos will face only five challengers. At 8-5 in the morning line, Congaree may present the toughest challenge.

Trained by Bob Baffert, who also conditions Point Given, Congaree has raced only three times. His eight-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race March 17 at Santa Anita Park earned him this cross-country trip to the Wood.

Baffert considering running Congaree in the Santa Anita Derby, but decided against throwing him in against his big horse, Point Given - big in size and ability.

"Point Given was really something, wasn't he?" Baffert said. "He's a big horse, but you know what? So is Congaree. And Congaree has a pretty good head on his shoulders for a horse that really hasn't raced all that much. He and Point Given are very close in talent."

If Monarchos handles Congaree and his other rivals in the Wood, Ward will then begin focusing on the showdown with Point Given in the Kentucky Derby. Can Monarchos at his best beat the California star?

"Oh, yeah," Ward said. "I think it's going to be a knockdown, drag-out. The one advantage Monarchos is going to have is that quick acceleration. Point Given is so big that he's going to have to have a clear path. It's going to be a horse race."

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