Baffert-Stevens team up for win after Derby disappointment
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Bob Baffert still can't figure out what happened to Point Given in the Kentucky Derby. After his strapping colt won the Preakness, the white-haired trainer doesn't care that much anymore.
"You can't look back," Baffert said. "You just go on. Horses beat horses."
Two weeks ago at Churchill Downs, Monarchos pulled away for a 2 3/4-length win in the Derby, with 9-5 favorite Point Given fading in the stretch and finishing fifth.
Before a record crowd of 104,454 at Pimlico, Point Given only got stronger in the stretch, passing stablemate Congaree and beating A P Valentine by 2 1/4 lengths.
"I was excited about this one," Baffert said. "We hadn't won one in a while."
For Baffert, it only seems that way. He won the Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm in 1997, and came back the next year and won both races with Real Quiet. Since then, Excellent Meeting did not finish in the '99 Preakness and Captain Steve was fourth last year in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
"Just to be here and have a horse to run in the classics is good enough," Baffert said. "Just to play at this level ... winning is great ... but it's a great feeling walking up here. You always feel like you have a chance."
Baffert, who now has five wins in the classics, felt Point Given had a huge chance to take the Derby, too. But he and jockey Gary Stevens remain mystified as to why the son of Thunder Gulch failed to fire like he did in winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.
"We were very disappointed, we were scratching our heads and trying to figure out what happened," Baffert said. "There was nothing physically wrong with him, so we kept training him and he worked great this week."
Baffert thinks Stevens may have kept Point Given too close to a record-setting early pace in the Derby. So along with owner Prince Ahmed Salman, who was home in Saudi Arabia and spoke with Baffert after the race, the group came up with a new game plan.
This time, Stevens was more conscious of his position.
"I kept him back a little at the start and rode him with a lot more confidence early on," said Stevens, who retired from racing in 1999 for 10 months because of arthritic knees. "I let him get settled and into his stride and kept him outside, out of trouble."
Breaking from the outside No. 11 post, Point Given was 10th going into the clubhouse turn and then began picking off horses on the backstretch. Staying four wide, Stevens moved Point Given up alongside Congaree at the top of the stretch and then pulled away for the win.
"I felt I was loaded for bear every step of the way, and it just gave me a great feeling," said Stevens, a Hall of Famer who won his seventh Triple Crown race and second Preakness. "Everything worked out great."
For Baffert, the win justified his faith in the Point Given, who went off as a slight 2-1 favorite over Monarchos. Congaree, also trained by Baffert, was third, just as he was in the Derby.
"We wanted to run 1-2," Baffert said. "Congaree ran his heart out. But this can get me to relax today."
And now it's on to the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
"The real Point Given showed up today and put a great field away and did it easily," Stevens said. "And now all America knows what a great race horse he is now.
"We're going in the Belmont with a lot of horse underneath us."