How good was Point Given?

History will have to judge Point Given on his accomplishments, an
impressive list that will likely lead to his being named the 2001 Horse of
the Year and definite enshrinement in the National Museum of Racing and Hall
of Fame. But he does not merit comparisons to the greatest superstars of the
sport, horses like Secretariat, Man o'War, Citation. His career (13 races)
was too brief and it includes one very bad day, the afternoon of May 5,
Kentucky Derby Day. Not a good time to throw in a clinker, you might say.

That may be what's there in black and white in his past performances and
on his permanent record, but I prefer to think of what might have been. No
one knows how good this horse was or what he could have done. The very
thought is frightening and it only compounds the sad, sobering news released
Friday that Point Given was being retired due to a tendon injury.

Is it possible that this horse was just starting to come into his own?
That may seem like a stretch considering he had already won two Triple Crown
races, six Grade I events in all and earned nearly $4 million, but it appears
to be the case.

Point Given was a big, goofy kid -- a big, goofy kid with a ton of talent
and just as much heart and determination. Hobbled by a bad hoof and coming
off a layoff, he clearly wasn't at his best for the Haskell but managed to
win anyway. But it was the Travers that gave a truer indication of his
untapped potential. He broke a step slow, didn't change to his proper lead
until the eighth-pole and seemed more interested in toying with runner-up E
Dubai than knocking him out. He never seemed to level off in the Travers, put
his head down or switch to high gear. He did more wrong than he did right.
Yet, when it was all said and done he had won his fourth straight $1 million
dollar race and did so by a convincing 3 1/2 lengths.

His obvious immaturity may even have contributed to his subsequent injury
and retirement. Trainer Bob Baffert isn't sure what went wrong but reasoned
that the injury either occurred or was aggravated when a playful Point Given
became hard to handle around his Del Mar barn Wednesday.

Sooner or later, Point Given was going to grow up and figure out what
this game is really all about. Then what?

"It was like (jockey) Gary Stevens said every time after he came back
from a win, that we never did get to the bottom of this horse," Baffert said.
"He was just a clown. He'd come back after a win and it was like nothing for
him. After races like the Belmont and the Travers, big races, he was ready to
go out the next day and do it again. He was going to get better and better.
I've had nice horses but never anything like him. I really enjoyed watching
him run."

He was scheduled for at least two more appearances this year, one of them
in the Breeders' Cup Classic. But it was his 4-year-old campaign that could
have been one of the greatest seasons ever put together by a horse. He would
have been a year older, a year stronger and, presumably, a year more mature.
He might have gone to Dubai for the World Cup, Saratoga for the Whitney, Del
Mar for the Pacific Classic and on to the Breeders' Cup Classic. There would
have been no limit to what he could have accomplished.

Then again, does it ever work out that way? Friday's news was still
another unwanted reminder of how fragile these horses are and how difficult
that makes it for the sport to market its stars. It takes time for a horse to
capture the public's imagination, more time than the sport has.

It hurts any time a good horse is retired prematurely. It's just that
this one hurt more than most.