Updated on 09/15/2011 12:16PM

Hale horse, hale rider (wrong ride)


PHILADELPHIA - It's fascinating how fast a horse can go from superstar to bum to superstar again. Generally, it takes about two minutes.

I was on the Point Given bandwagon for months. Frankly, I was ready to get off Kentucky Derby Week when the world seemed to be piling on. I stayed aboard and was looking for a place to jump after the race.

Instead of jumping, I tried to evaluate the evidence. Many were saying that they knew it all along, that Point Given hadn't beaten anything, that he was just another overhyped fraud. As the inventor of RIP (Reputation Induced Phenomenon), I almost wanted to believe that.

Instead, I went back to the tapes. I watched those prep races again. What I saw convinced me more than ever that this was a colt with rare talent.

So, what happened in the Derby? Some were saying Point Given had a perfect trip and just came up empty and that he was a bet against in the Preakness.

I thought the answer was different. Point Given, it seemed to me, had just been ridden the wrong way in Kentucky.

Gary Stevens has long been one of my favorite jockeys because he is unafraid of consequences. If there is a choice between passive and aggressive, he almost always goes for aggressive. That's why he is already in the Hall of Fame.

Look back at the chart of the 1995 Derby. Stevens had Point Given's sire Thunder Gulch sixth early, several lengths behind a fast pace. The colt blew by the field and won easily.

When Point Given showed amazing speed and won the Santa Anita Derby, perhaps Stevens looked back and figured on a 1995 Kentucky Derby repeat.

So, he sent Point Given in the first 50 yards of the Derby. Clearly, he was concerned about getting Point Given a good position in the 17-horse field. Little did Stevens know he would be tracking the fastest fractions in Derby history.

The Derby tactics, while aggressive, were wrong for the situation. Stevens said as much after the Preakness.

The Derby was loaded with quality speed. There was no reason to be aggressive. The leaders were going to come back to the field. But when they did, it was a relaxed Monarchos who rolled by them, not an aggressively ridden Point Given.

Stevens changed tactics completely in the Preakness. He let Point Given cruise early behind a much slower pace. The colt got into the race on his own. The race was over on the far turn.

After running his first quarter mile in approximately 25.6 seconds, Point Given ran the next half-mile in around 46 seconds, amazing time on a surface that was not fast at all. More amazing, he did it with no urging from Stevens.

All those prep races were not a mirage. Point Given did and does have big-time talent.

When a horse has raced eight times, including four Grade 1 stakes, and never finished worse than second, you should not overreact to one bad performance. The bettors, at least, did not overreact. They made Point Given a slight favorite in the Preakness.

If Point Given were a superstar, he may have been able to overcome the Derby tactics and win anyway. But he's not a superstar, not yet anyway. His 111 Preakness Beyer was right in line with his 110 in the Santa Anita Derby.

If you have watched Point Given all along, however, you know there is more there. Forget the "he did not like the track' Derby theory. Speed-wise, it was precisely the same Churchill Downs track he raced so well over in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The difference was that on the first Saturday in November, Point Given was allowed to relax early and delivered a huge late punch. On the first Saturday in May, the colt was given no chance to relax and little chance at the winner's circle.

Now that Stevens and trainer Bob Baffert understand just how Point Given wants to be ridden, we should all get to see the depths of the colt's ability. Point Given is closing in on earnings of $2 million. And it's still early, very early.