2001 Triple Crown

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A lot at Stakes

Monarchos, Point Given set for Belmont showdown

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Posted: Thursday June 07, 2001 7:08 PM
Updated: Friday June 08, 2001 8:31 PM
  Point Given Point Given gallops at Belmont Park under exercise rider Pepe Aragon. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- The showdown between Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos and Preakness winner Point Given is what's expected in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

John Ward, Monarchos' trainer, fears a different scenario.

"To me we're both set up to get beat," Ward said Thursday.

The last Kentucky Derby winner to win the 1 1/2-mile Belmont was Thunder Gulch, Point Given's sire, in 1995. The last Preakness winner to win the final race of the Triple Crown was Tabasco Cat in 1994.

The quality of the other seven 3-year-olds could get in the way of a Monarchos-Point Given race for the wire.

"This is one of the better ones," said D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Belmont four times and has Buckle Down Ben in this field. "This is a good bunch. The winner that comes out of this race is a legitimate Belmont winner."

Monarchos looked sensational in winning the Florida Derby by 4 1/2 lengths, but then finished second in the Wood Memorial in a performance Ward called a perfect prep for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.

It was. Monarchos, making a big move from 10th place with a half-mile remaining, won the Derby by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:59 4/5, second only to Secretariat's 1:59 2/5 in 127 runnings of the race.

In the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, Monarchos finished sixth.

"I watched the Preakness again the other night and I think our mistake was taking him back," Ward said, explaining that the colt should have been closer to the early pace.

Point Given opened his 3-year-old campaign by winning the San Felipe, then won the Santa Anita Derby. The favorite in the Kentucky Derby, the huge chestnut colt was second, only a head behind stablemate Congaree with a quarter-mile remaining, then faded to finish fifth.

In the Preakness he made a move on the final turn and won by 2 1/4 lengths.

"Gary had a plan in his head how he was going to ride in the Derby," Baffert said. "In the Preakness he let the horse decide on his own."

In the Derby, Stevens was concerned about the speedy Congaree getting away from him and he stayed right behind him. After three quarters of a mile, Point Given was sixth, a half length behind Congaree and about 4 1/2 lengths behind pacesetting Songandaprayer. But those three quarters were raced in 1:09 1/5, the fastest in Derby history.

"It took a while to figure out how he wants to run," Baffert said. "Gary pushed him along to keep up in the Derby, and that's not the way this horse wants to run.

"The Belmont distance should be no problem for him as long as he's ridden patiently. He'll move when he wants to."

The rest of the Belmont field has good credentials.

There are Invisible Ink, second in the Kentucky Derby; Preakness runner-up A P Valentine; Thunder Blitz, fourth in the Derby; and Dollar Bill, fourth in the Preakness. Baffert is holding out Congaree, third in both the Derby and Preakness.

Also in the Belmont are Balto Star, the front-running winner of the Arkansas Derby who suffered heat exhaustion while running 14th in the Kentucky Derby; Irish-bred Dr Greenfield, winner of three of four starts in England, one of them on dirt, and Buckle Down Ben, who won the Grade I Laurel Futurity last year.

"This is a heck of a good crop of 3-year-olds," said Nick Zito, A P Valentine's trainer, who has failed to win a Belmont, but has had four runner-up finishers, including Strike the Gold (1991) and Go For Gin (1994).

Related information
Preakness winner works for Belmont Stakes
Two trainers have second thoughts about Belmont stakes
Point Given draws outside post for Belmont Stakes
Point Given's trainer Bob Baffert hopes his horse will be as successful at the Belmont as he was at the Preakness. (201 K)
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