`Determined' driven to succeed

Md. breeder quickly recognized potential in Derby contender

Kentucky Derby

May 01, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

Tom Bowman takes a momentary break from his work as one of the foremost reproductive veterinarians in the country to remember a yearling who two years ago romped over the fields of his Dance Forth Farm near Chestertown.

"He was a very, very strong, robust colt," said Bowman, recalling the horse now named Point Determined. "But to say I thought he'd get this far - I never imagined."

Point Determined, a 3-year-old co-bred with partner Milton Higgins, is among the top contenders for the Kentucky Derby. Purchased by Beverly Lewis and her late husband, Bob, and trained by Bob Baffert, Point Determined has not finished lower than second in his past five starts.

He was runner-up to Brother Derek, considered the Derby favorite by many, in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby in his final prep for Saturday's race in Kentucky.

"You hear too many sappy stories in horse racing - `Oh, I knew this was the one!'" said Bowman, 62. "It wasn't like that. I can remember him because the mare, Merengue, means a lot to us. But I will say Milton, my partner, said from the day Point Determined was a weanling that he'd be the best colt we'd ever bred."

Higgins, 68, who lives in Olney and makes his living from breeding horses with Bowman, was so taken with the colt as an infant that he has followed his every move since the partners sold him for $290,000 at the 2004 Keeneland September yearling sale in Kentucky.

And Higgins has had his eye on Point Determined longer than that. Back when he was romping in the fields with other foals, Higgins could pick him out of the crowd.

"It came to me early on that this colt was special," said Higgins, who has been a partner in the horse business with Bowman for 25 years.

"[The colt was] born a plain, brown colt from a plain, brown mare, but from the time he was born, any time you looked at him or in an area where he was, he commanded attention."

Bowman deadpans that, as a baby, Point Determined stood out because he was so robust he was almost fat.

"If I called him anything, it was Fatty," he said with a laugh.

Point Determined's mother is Merengue, owned by Bowman and Higgins since shortly after her birth. She is a daughter of Broad Brush (third in 1986 Preakness). Trainer Don Barr helped arrange Merengue's sale to the partners and turned her into a multiple stakes winner, including the Grade III Anne Arundel Stakes. She then retired to broodmare duties at Dance Forth Farm.

Four years ago, Bowman and Higgins worked a foal-sharing deal - splitting the proceeds from the offspring's sale - with Robert Clay, who owns Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, home of Point Given, the 2001 Preakness and Belmont winner.

"We had Merengue, who he liked, and his contribution to the partnership was Point Given's stud fee, which at the time was about $125,000," Bowman said. "We had it written in the contract that we would sell the foal. There was never any doubt about that."

So Merengue, now currently in foal to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, went to Kentucky for her date with Point Given and then returned to Maryland, where she delivered the foal.

"We never had any thought of wanting to keep the foal," Bowman said. "This is a business. We raise to sell or race, and he was almost too valuable for us to keep."

As Point Determined - who was bought by the Lewises for $750,000 as a 2-year-old - continues to excel, Bowman and Higgins' favorite mare, Merengue, is also increasing in value.

"Milton and I have tried to develop a small group of quality mares," Bowman said. "Merengue is young, about 10. She's had four foals and is in foal to St. Liam. She and Point Determined are what you're constantly striving for, but rarely achieve. Her value is climbing. I hesitate to venture a guess as to what it is. But she's pretty much the whole deal of what we're trying to do."

And to have a horse they've bred running in the Kentucky Derby, well, it isn't something that happens to everyone.

"I'd have to say any horse in training here, Sweetnorthernsaint and Barbaro, have more of a connection to the state than the one we bred here," Bowman said. "But there is very rarely a chance to be involved with a Kentucky Derby horse, and when you're in this business of owning, planning and breeding and you come up with a horse like Point Determined, it's an immense source of pride."

smm2me@aol.com

DERBY FACTS

What: First leg of thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown series

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

TV: Chs. 11, 4, 5 p.m.

Distance: 1 1/4 miles

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