What happened to Point Given?
By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
No one ever said horse racing is an exact science. There is a reason why exactly one favorite has won Kentucky Derby since 1979. Horses aren't perfect and the people entrusted with deciphering the outcomes of these things are less perfect yet. But there is supposed to be some logic attached to horse racing and every angle and analysis led to the conclusion that Point Given had to run a big race, if not win, the Derby. He was as solid as they come.
How could we all have been so wrong?
The Sunday morning quarterbacks will have a grand time tossing this one around, but no one is going to come up with a precise answer. It's all guesswork. Point Given is a lot better horse than the one that was such a disappointment in the Kentucky Derby.
The possible excuses:
Gary Stevens moved too soon.
Though Stevens certainly didn't lose the race on his own, it's not hard to secondguess his tactics. There were 154,210 people in the stands and all 154,210 knew there was going to be one of the fastest paces in Kentucky Derby history. Point Given was supposed to wait patiently, timing his move entering the far turn, about the time all the frontrunners would be laying down and begging for mercy. But Stevens pushed the button early, too early for some. Point Given was asked to make his move on the backstretch, right into the teeth of the brutally fast pace. It was no surprise when he had nothing left when it mattered.
"He looked like he was in good shape the whole way, but when you analyze the race closer, the pace was harder than expected," trainer Bob Baffert said. "Maybe he needed to be farther back. Gary rode him like he did in the Santa Anita Derby - aggressive.
Was it the heat?
Both Baffert and Stevens surmised that the heat may have done in Point Given. It was toasty, 86 degrees. But it wasn't any cooler for race winner Monarchos or any of the other 16 horses. I'm not buying that one.
He didn't like the track.
This wouldn't be the first time that a good horse threw in a clinker in the Derby only to rebound and look like a champion the rest of the way on the Derby trail. For whatever reason, there are horses who just don't handle the Churchill Downs surface. Skip Away, Holy Bull, Hansel and Pine Bluff are just some of the horses in recent years who did a lot of good things after not running a lick in the Derby.
He wasn't ready for the Derby after just two preps?
Just about everyone, this pundit included, though Baffert had done the right thing by giving Point Given only two preps this year for the Derby. Such a gifted trainer, Baffert had to know what he was doing, even though only one horse (Sunny's Halo) had won the Derby with just two prior races that year. Not only did he seem to be coming into the Derby in good shape, but he was supposed to have a fresh horse for the remainder of the Triple Crown. Perhaps Baffert's strategy backfired.
He suffered an injury, something that will show up in a day or two.
That's always a possibility. Horses are as fragile as porcelain and can crack at any time. There were no initial signs that Point Given had hurt himself in the race but Baffert is already worried about the possibility.
"I just hope nothing shows up with Point Given," he said. "He wasn't himself, but nothing is wrong at first glance. I just don't know. That wasn't the Point Given we know."
Perhaps the best answer is that there is no answer. It was just one of those things. He just had a bad day. It happens to even the best of us.
Do not give up on this horse. He may not be the next Secretariat or even the next Silver Charm, but he is a far better horse than he showed in his lackluster Kentucky Derby. Baffert wouldn't commit to the Preakness yet, but if Point Given gets a clean bill of health the smart money says that he'll be in Baltimore two weeks from today. And he might just win the Preakness. The last horse that saw everyone jump off his bandwagon? A colt they call Monarchos.