`Point' forced into retirement

Sport loses top horse to strained tendon

Horse Racing

September 01, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Point Given, America's most exciting horse since Cigar, has been retired because of a tendon strain below his left front knee.

Bob Baffert, his trainer, discovered the injury Thursday morning at Del Mar racetrack in Southern California. Baffert said yesterday that he wasn't sure how the strain occurred, but that it probably happened during the Travers Stakes last weekend at Saratoga.

Point Given showed no ill effects after the race, which he won by 3 1/2 lengths. But the playful colt, always a handful around the barn, might have aggravated the strain during a typical rearing episode Wednesday after returning to Del Mar, Baffert said.

"It's a big blow not only to us but also to the racing community," said Baffert, one of the sport's most successful trainers. "He was on the cutting edge of breaking into that greatness mode. I've had some nice horses, but I've never had one like that."

The loss of Point Given is a setback to a stagnant sport in need of stars. The charismatic chestnut had begun doing for horse racing what Tiger Woods had done for golf.

When Point Given raced four weeks ago at Monmouth Park, he attracted a record crowd of 47,127 to the track on the Jersey shore. When he raced Saturday at Saratoga in upstate New York, he drew a record crowd of 60,486.

"I feel sorry for the racing fan," Baffert said. "This horse brought a lot of joy to us, a lot of excitement."

Point Given was ranked the No. 1 thoroughbred in North America. The racing world was greatly anticipating his showdown with the undefeated European star Galileo in the Breeders' Cup Classic Oct. 27 at Belmont Park.

Point Given's jockey, Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, had taken to calling Point Given "my Secretariat." Stevens said that Point Given was the best horse he had ever ridden, but that no one had yet seen the best of the oversized chestnut with the long, powerful stride.

By winning the Travers, Point Given became the first horse to win four straight races worth at least $1 million. After finishing a puzzling fifth as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, Point Given reeled off victories in the Preakness, the Belmont and the Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth.

A 3-year-old who would have raced at least one more year, Point Given retires after winning nine of 14 races and earning $3,968,500 for his owner, Saudi Arabian Prince Ahmed Salman. A member of the ruling party of Saudi Arabia, Salman is in California and conferred Thursday at Del Mar with his racing manager Richard Mulhall, Baffert and the veterinarian Vince Baker.

Baker told them that Point Given would require "five or six months" rest if they wanted to try to race him again, Baffert said. Salman decided to retire Point Given instead of risking further injury.

"Right now we're devastated," Baffert said. "I can't believe it's happened. You wait all your life for a horse like this, and then he's snatched away. You feel cheated. We're just thankful that it happened after he made $4 million and did what he did. What he did was pretty remarkable."

Point Given will remain at Del Mar for the time being, the trainer said. No decision has been made on where he will stand at stud in 2002.

"He's not in any pain or discomfort," Baffert said. "He's a big sweetheart in his stall anyway. He'll be in a lot better shape come January or February when they lead those first mares up to him."

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