The racing career of the most captivating 3-year-old since the glory days of Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed versus Alydar ended last week because of a strained tendon in his left front leg. Although Point Given missed the Triple Crown by running fifth in this year's Kentucky Derby, the towering chestnut largely atoned for that failure by winning all four of his subsequent starts: the Preakness, the Belmont, the Haskell Invitational and, six days before his sudden retirement, the Travers. "This horse was on the edge of greatness," said his trainer, Bob Baffert, last Friday. "I feel cheated that we didn't get to see his best."
Point Given's premature trip to the stud farm was especially untimely because he'd emerged as a 3-year-old superstar, the land of draw racing most covets—and desperately needs. TV ratings for the Triple Crown rose considerably this spring thanks to the series' switch from ABC to NBC, which used the races as lead-ins for its NBA playoff telecasts. Point Given's romp parlayed that added exposure into attendance records when he ran. He helped attract 73,857 to the Belmont Stakes, the biggest crowd ever for a Belmont in which the Triple Crown was not on the line. Monmouth Park officials so badly wanted Point Given in the Haskell that they boosted the purse by $500,000, to $1.5 million; they were rewarded when a throng of 47,127 showed up, breaking a 39-year-old track mark. At Saratoga three weeks later 60,486 fans turned out to see Point Given run in the Travers, a record for that race. "It's like when I was a kid and you got to see Mantle play centerfield," says Robert Kulina, the general manager at Monmouth. "You need superhorses to draw new fans."
Two years ago Charismatic, the long-shot winner of the 1999 Derby and Preakness, was on the verge of the most unlikely thoroughbred success story since Seabiscuit, only to shatter his left front leg in the homestretch of the Belmont. The injury to Point Given is a similarly painful setback. "Superstars such as Point Given bring out the casual fans," says Barry Schwartz, chairman of the New York Racing Association. "There's no question it's a big blow."