With week to go, Derby countdown begins

Churchill Downs meet opens today

Point Given getting lots of attention

April 28, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

After shining upon an array of racetracks around the country, the spotlight now focuses upon Churchill Downs. There, under the twin spires, the chosen few have come.

The high-strung, muscular, powerful and beautiful thoroughbreds who have qualified (at least in their owners' minds) for the Kentucky Derby have descended upon the historic track in Louisville, Ky. They've begun working out in the dim morning light in final preparation for what has been called the most exciting two minutes in sports.

It appears that less than a full field of 20 horses will break from the starting gate a week from today at the Derby's new post time of 6:04 p.m. Barring injuries or setbacks, 15 3-year-olds are expected to attempt the 1 1/4 miles for the first time in their young careers. At least two others are possible, including Gift of the Eagle, who races today in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on opening day.

The eyes of the racing world seem fixed upon Point Given, the large, fast and playful son of Thunder Gulch who won the Derby in 1995. Bob Baffert, who trains Point Given, won the Derby with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998.

Point Given may be best of the bunch. At least Baffert has handled him as if he were. After losing two Triple Crowns in the Belmont, the crafty trainer has raced Point Given only twice this year.

"Not only do we want a horse for the Derby," Baffert said, "but we also want a horse for the Preakness and Belmont."

Silver Charm and Real Quiet, after winning the Derby, also won the Preakness but then faltered in the Belmont. No horse has won a Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

Baffert also trains the speedy Congaree, who won the Wood Memorial Stakes in only his fourth start. History says his inexperience will cost him the Derby. Baffert says nonsense.

"If he gets beat in the Derby," Baffert said, "he's going to get beat by just a better horse."

As always, the Derby has attracted an interesting mix of contenders and pretenders. Heading the former category is Monarchos, who captured the Florida Derby with an explosive, prolonged surge, but then finished second to Congaree in the Wood. And Balto Star won his last three races by nearly 30 lengths.

Millennium Wind ruled the Blue Grass Stakes and will carry the living legend, 54-year-old Laffit Pincay Jr., into the Derby. But Millennium Wind, a portrait of courage, keeps running on sore heels. His condition will be closely monitored.

The leading pretender is Tincin, a Kentucky maiden who hasn't finished better than fifth in seven races. And what about Talk Is Money? His Laurel-based trainer John Scanlan hired Jerry Bailey to ride what should be a hopeless long shot. But the combination of a Hall of Fame rider aboard a well-bred $1.8 million yearling is intriguing, isn't it? The Derby answers all questions.

Tom Keyser's Derby Dozen

Horse... Sire....Trainer... Jockey... Last race... Comment....Odds*

Point Given... Thunder Gulch... Bob Baffert ...Gary Stevens...1st Santa Anita Derby... All eyes will be on the Derby favorite as Derby week unfolds... 9-5

Monarchos...Maria's Mon... John Ward Jr.... Jorge Chavez... 2nd Wood Memorial...How quickly everyone's forgotten his Fla. Derby move... 6-1

Balto Star... Glitterman...Todd Pletcher... Mark Guidry...1st Arkansas Derby Can flashy son of Glitterman control the pace start to finish?...12-1

Congaree Arazi...Bob Baffert...Victor Espinoza...1st Wood Memorial He's bucking history trying to win Derby off only four races... 5-1

Millennium Wind...Cryptoclearance... David Hofmans... Laffit Pincay Jr. 1st Blue Grass...Gutsy, talented horse keeps trying to overcome sore heels... 6-1

Dollar Bill...Peaks and Valleys... Dallas Stewart... Pat Day.... 3rd Blue Grass He's become the forgotten contender after much early hype...10-1

Fifty Stars...Quiet American...Steve Asmussen...Donnie Meche...2nd Lone Star Derby...The faster the pace the better for this late-charging colt... 30-1

Express Tour... Tour d'Or...Saeed bin Suroor... David Flores... 1st UAE Derby No horse can capture the Ky. Derby with only one prep race... 20-1

A P Valentine... A.P. Indy... Nick Zito...Corey Nakatani... 5th Blue Grass "But don't count him out," warns his ever-optimistic trainer... 30-1

Thunder Blitz... Holy Bull... Joe Orseno...Edgar Prado...1st Flamingo Stakes Impressive win over weak Flamingo field earned Derby spot... 30-1

Songandaprayer... Unbridled's Song... John Dowd... Aaron Gryder...2nd Blue Grass... He gives his all, but 1 1/4 miles may be beyond his reach...30-1

Talk Is Money... Deputy Minister... John Scanlan... Jerry Bailey... 2nd Tesio Stakes... Curious trifecta: Bailey, $1.8 million yearling, long odds

Also expected to run (trainer, jockey odds):

Jamaican Rum (James Cassidy, Eddie Delahoussaye, 30-1), Invisible Ink (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 40-1) and Tincin (Steve LaRue, Mike Morgan, 500-1).

Possible to run:

Keats (Niall O'Callaghan, Larry Melancon, 40-1) and Gift of the Eagle (Ken McPeek, Mike Smith, 80-1).

* Daily Racing Form odds

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