At long last
Baffert finally victorious in fifth Belmont try
NEW YORK (AP) -- A day before the Belmont Stakes, trainer Bob Baffert sat on a white fence near Point Given's stall, boosted up his 12-year-old son to join him, and told Canyon: "I owe you a Belmont, right?"
"Yep," Canyon said.
"OK," Baffert said.
Consider it done. Finally.
Baffert's Point Given gave an electrifying performance in romping to a 12 1/4-length victory in Saturday's $1 million Belmont Stakes.
"This is the first time I've ever been here as a winner," a smiling Baffert said as he entered the interview room. "That was the easiest mile and a half race I've ever been involved in."
When the imposing Point Given crossed the finish line, Baffert had his first Belmont win in five tries, including two attempts to sweep the Triple Crown in 1997 and 1998.
Once again, Baffert wound up with two-thirds of the Triple Crown, this time having lost the Kentucky Derby, a race that was supposed to kick off the colt's Triple Crown sweep. Instead, Point Given finished fifth.
Now that Point Given has a Preakness-Belmont double, Triple Crown thoughts swirled in the minds of Baffert and jockey Gary Stevens.
"You'll never know," Baffert said. "We'll never be able to figure that one out. It wasn't his day. It didn't happen. If you look back, you'll drive yourself crazy."
If Baffert looks back a little further, there are the Belmont losses that cost Silver Charm and then Real Quiet a Triple Crown.
"When I lost those races, it was like, once it's over..." Baffert began, without finishing the thought. "There are so many races and everything else. You can't go back. ... If it's meant to happen, it's meant to happen."
Stevens has mixed feelings about winning his third Belmont.
"I'm always going to be bittersweet about these two victories without the Kentucky Derby, but I'm not going to be greedy," said Stevens, who won his first Belmont in 1995 aboard Thunder Gulch, Point Given's sire.
"I feel like he is a champion and should have 'Triple Crown' next to his name. I think when it's all said and done with, everyone will know what kind of a horse he is. He put on a show today."
Baffert walked into the winner's circle holding his son's hand with his daughter, Savannah, by his side. He joked with former President Bill Clinton before accepting the Belmont trophy from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"It was a trainer's triumph, without a doubt," the former president said.
And it came at the right time.
In 1996, Baffert's Cavonnier lost the Derby to Grindstone at the wire, then the horse was pulled up in the stretch of the Belmont. Silver Charm was beaten three-quarters of a length by Touch Gold in '97 and Real Quiet a nose by Victory Gallop in '98. In '99, he sent out the filly Silverbulletday, who finished seventh behind winner Lemon Drop Kid.
Last year, Baffert sat out the Belmont and actually had thought about not returning until he had another Triple Crown chance. Until he came upon Point Given.
"He showed everyone today what he's made of," Baffert said.