Prince's tip brings royal results

`Given' owner suggests winning, off-pace strategy

May 20, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Prince Ahmed Salman was home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, yesterday afternoon. But his strategy suggestion was followed closely by jockey Gary Stevens as he rode Point Given to victory in the 126th Preakness.

"Prince Ahmed is a horseman," Stevens said of Salman, a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family who heads The Thoroughbred Corp., a group of international businessmen from his country, Europe and the United States. "He understands horses and the bit about strategy. He loves strategy."

It was the prince who came up with the winning Preakness strategy after Point Given finished fifth as the Kentucky Derby favorite two weeks ago at Churchill Downs.

Sitting in a Louisville, Ky., hotel room with Richard Mulhall, president of The Thoroughbred Corp., watching film and discussing what went wrong, Prince Ahmed concluded that Point Given had laid too close to the front at too fast a pace.

"He'd come from nearly 20 lengths back at Churchill in the Breeders' Cup and was beaten by a nose," Mulhall said. "So it kind of looked like that's how he wanted to run -- at least over that racetrack.

"He's a horse that wants to run into the bit. If you have to kind of be nudging him and he's on a loose rein, he doesn't like that. If he's running against the bit, he likes it. And that's what he did today."

But in winning the Santa Anita Derby, his last race before the Derby, Point Given had showed more speed, and when he drew the outside post in Kentucky, trainer Bob Baffert and Stevens thought they could rush him to make up ground over the first 50 yards.

"It didn't work," Mulhall said.

So, the prince made his suggestion -- "Please, take him back [off the lead]. Listen to me," Baffert said the prince told him by phone before the race. It was something like Orioles owner Peter Angelos telling former manager Johnny Oates to play Leo Gomez at third base, but the prince got better results.

"Prince Ahmed felt he needed to be ridden a little more patient," Stevens said. "I wanted to let him tow me. ... I felt bad for Prince Ahmed [after the Derby].

"You try not to put these horses on too high of a pedestal, because you're setting yourself up for a fall. But anyone who had watched this horse come along this spring knew he was something very special."

For much of the day yesterday, Prince Ahmed was taking care of his businesses in Riyadh, but when the Preakness broadcast came on, Mulhall said, the prince put business aside and watched.

"When I talked to him, he was very, very happy," Mulhall said. "I was told by others there that he had tears in his eyes. But his first words to me, I cannot tell you. He was so happy, he was screaming."

Point Given at a glance

Foaled: March 27, 1998

Jockey: Gary Stevens

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: The Thoroughbred Corp.

Career statistics:

Year S 1 2 3 Earnings

2001 4 3 0 0 $1,250,000

2000 6 3 3 0 $618,500

Tot. 10 6 3 0 $1,868,500

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