Time to salvage the Triple Crown
By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
Sorry to be a spoilsport, but it has been an unsatisfying Triple Crown. Point Given doesn't show up in the Kentucky Derby. Monarchos doesn't show up in the Preakness. These mystifying colts have no flair for the dramatic, no sense of playing to the crowd. Don't they know no one wants another cakewalk by one or the other with a 55-1 shot sucking up for second?
Who's the better horse? No one knows. Who will crack first when they look one another in the eye? Your guess is as good as mine. Can the ultra-aggressive, powerful Chop Chop Chavez outfinish Gary Stevens? Can the wily pro Gary Stevens outfox The Chopper? These are unsolved mysteries. Sure, there are seven other horses in the field, but is anybody really that excited about A P Valentine or Dollar Bill or Balto Star? Everyone knows that the two best 3-year-olds alive are Point Given and Monarchos.
We want a knockdown, drag-out, down and dirty brawl where both horses give it everything they've got and only one is left standing at the finish line. We want to see the showdown, and we want to see it now. Then, and only then, will this Triple Crown leave us satiated.
Which is why the Belmont might be, make that should be, the race of the year. Either that or this will wind up being the Triple Crown that decided nothing.
Will the questions finally be answered? We can only hope.
"I'd like to see everyone show up and have both horses running together turning for home," said Bob Baffert, the trainer of Point Given. "It would be great for the fans, and I think it will happen. Point Given is giving me every indication that he will show up."
Baffert has every right to be confident.
There are probably a couple of reasons that Point Given didn't perform up to expectations in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Bob Baffert has admitted that he and jockey Gary Stevens went with the wrong game plan. Instead of allowing the horse to settle into stride, he was pushed just enough early that he was closer than he needed to be to a torrid early pace. That's not going to happen again, not after he was given a perfect sit-and-wait ride in the Preakness.
The other factor that could have contributed to his fifth-place finish was the Churchill Downs surface. For whatever reason, some horses just won't run over it. Point Given is the umpteenth horse who showed nothing in the Kentucky Derby only to come back with a huge race in the Preakness. With him having already run a big race at Belmont last year in the Champagne, it's obvious that Point Given will have no problems with the track Saturday.
Will there be any other excuses? Baffert doesn't think so.
"This horse is an animal; the Triple Crown (grind) hasn't affected him at all," he said. "He's an unbelievable horse. I've never seen one like him who has handled something like this so well. He doesn't show me any signs of wear and tear.
Monarchos is less of a certainty. Though he was extremely consistent before the Preakness, there aren't any overt reasons to excuse his poor Preakness performance. Trainer John Ward Jr. did what all trainers do when there horses throw in a clunker for no apparent reason. He blamed the track. Saying a horse may not have handled Churchill, a track that has a history of producing peculiar performances, is one thing. It's another to use the same excuse with Pimlico, which seems to yield nothing but explicable outcomes.
In fact, Ward pooh-poohed the showdown theory.
"I don't think the questions will be answered until the fall," he said. "I know the racing public wants a showdown, but you've got two fighters who have been going all season. I don't necessarily believe you'll see a showdown. It might be one or the other who shows up. When you talk about a showdown you're talking about a race that each horse has been pointing for and has had a suitable amount of time off in between races."
Ward doesn't think you can have a perfect scenario in the last race of a grueling three-race series, which can boil down to who has survived, not who is the better horse. He says that the showdown will come in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Let's hope that he's wrong, that Monarchos and Point Given both come with their A games. There's nothing better than pitting two horses against one another in a huge race and finding out when it's over who had the ability and resolve to come out on top and who didn't. That's what this Belmont Stakes is supposed to be all about. I'll be rooting first for Point Given because that's who my money will be on. I'll be rooting second for each horse to deliver this time because that's what racing fans deserve and that's what will make the Belmont great. Go get 'em boys.