Point Given storms back

Colt redeems loss in Kentucky before record Pimlico crowd

Preakness Stakes

May 20, 2001|By Ken Murray and Jamie Stiehm | Ken Murray and Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Point Given, the huge chestnut colt who ran a disappointing fifth in the Kentucky Derby, redeemed himself yesterday with a stunning 2 1/4 -length victory in the 126th Preakness Stakes.

A record Pimlico Race Course crowd of 104,454 watched Derby winner Monarchos finish a distant sixth - ending hopes of Triple Crown glory once again - and saw Point Given overtake stablemate Congaree with a powerful move at the top of the stretch.

"I knew going into the first turn, the race was over," said jockey Gary Stevens. "He was taking to the track perfectly today. I can't understand or explain what happened at Churchill Downs [in the Derby two weeks ago]. But the horse I rode today didn't show up at Churchill.

"As we went down the backside, I was sitting on a mountain."

The victory was trainer Bob Baffert's third in the Preakness, the second for Stevens and earned owner Prince Ahmed Salman $650,000 of the $1 million Preakness purse.

Salman, a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family, watched on television at home, but offered a critical piece of advice going into the race. The Baffert team had subtly questioned Stevens' decision to stay close to the torrid pace in the Derby, a decision that left Point Given empty for a stretch move.

This time, Point Given ran his own pace, and the strategy paid off handsomely. He ran sixth at the half-mile, third at three-quarters and got the lead at the head of the stretch.

"Prince Ahmed said, `Please, take him back [off the lead]. Listen to me,' " Baffert said. "That's what we did. At least we know he's the horse we thought he was."

Stevens said he had rushed Point Given in the first 50 yards at Churchill Downs to save ground from his extreme outside post. Point Given also ran from the outside yesterday, but had plenty left for the stretch.

"Prince Ahmed felt he needed to be ridden a little more patient," Stevens said. "I had no reason to argue that. He's a superior horse. ... When I turned him loose [yesterday], it was going to be up to him, not me telling him [to go]."

There was record betting on the race. Despite Monarchos' victory in the Derby, the crowd sent Point Given off as the 2-1 favorite by about $4,000. Winning for the third time in four starts this year, Point Given will make his way to the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

Monarchos' defeat was not necessarily a surprise to trainer John Ward Jr., who had expressed concern about the length of the Preakness - 1 3/16 miles - the shortest of the three Triple Crown races. Those concerns were validated.

"I had a terrible feeling in the first turn," Ward said. "[Monarchos] didn't want to go to his right lead. He didn't seem to be taking to the track. He wouldn't go to his left lead in the stretch. He just was uncomfortable."

There was also redemption in A P Valentine's second-place finish, at least for jockey Victor Espinoza. He was bumped off his ride on Congaree for Jerry Bailey, one of the best jockeys in the game. But A P Valentine stormed down the stretch to beat Congaree by a neck.

An overcast day with intermittent sun yielded a record betting handle and record crowds. Including fans at the Laurel (9,201) and Rosecroft (5,271) tracks, the Preakness set a total attendance record of 118,926. The previous high of 116,526 was set in 1999. The old Pimlico record also was set in 1999, with 100,311.

The total handle of $36,445,762 bet on the Preakness was also a record, surpassing $34,350,703 in 1999.

Relatively few medical emergencies were reported. Track officials said 23 people had to be transported to area hospitals - most for heat exhaustion and alcohol poisoning. And although about 150 people were ejected from the track for disorderly conduct, only about a half-dozen were arrested, most on drug possession charges.

For elected officials, it was a day to step lively and mingle widely. Mayor Martin O'Malley appeared to relish the revelry, shaking hands and posing for photos. He was seen with his wife, Katie O'Malley, and father-in-law, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening also spent time under the white corporate tents. The anti-gambling governor acknowledged placing a few bets. "I do what I suspect most Marylanders do," he said. "Three, seven, nine are my lucky numbers."

But Ascot it's not, Chrissie Davis, 26, discovered on her first visit to Preakness. In a hat and spring frock, she noted that the crowd ran the gamut from blue jeans to linen.

Biting into a $5 hot dog, Danny Joe Massengill declared hours before the race that his bet was on Point Given: "I just like him." Part of a men's club from Smithfield, N.C., that has ridden buses to the race since the 1950s, he proudly presented the Johnston County Jockey Club's senior member: co-founder Millard Stallings, 82, who made his living as a horse and mule trainer.

"We're drinking, partying and gambling heartily," said Stallings, who recalled 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat with fondness.

Another traveler from the South was Jim Perry, 41, of Lexington, Ky., who flew in yesterday without a ticket. As a horse breeder and trainer, he said, he was treated like extended family. Compared to the Derby, "a national social parade," as he put it, Perry said the Preakness was more the genuine article - an old-fashioned horse race.

Sun staff writer Laura Barnhardt contributed to this article.

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