Updated on 09/15/2011 12:53PM

Only unforeseen can stop Point Given


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - At the post position draw for Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes, Rick Violette, the trainer of Free of Love, was asked what the perfect scenario would be for his horse to win the Midsummer Derby.

"If E Dubai stumbles and gets in Point Given's way and we're loose on the lead," Violette said.

Although Violette was joking, it just may take a freak occurrence to prevent Point Given from winning Saturday's 132nd Travers and cementing his status as the leading 3-year-old colt and Horse of the Year candidate.

The presence of Point Given has fueled hopes that a record Travers crowd could show up to watch the "Big Red Train" shoot for his fourth consecutive victory against eight opponents. Last year, a record 54,116 watched Unshaded nip Albert the Great at the wire. Saturday's Travers will be televised by ESPN (4:30 p.m. Eastern).

Gates open at 7 a.m., first post is 12:30 p.m., and the Travers, the 10th of 11 races, is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. A pick-four wager will be offered on the final four races - including the Grade 1 King's Bishop and the Grade 2 Fourstardave - with a guaranteed minimum pool of $500,000.

Point Given enters the Travers with credentials as impressive as his father, Thunder Gulch, who in 1995 was the last favorite to win the Travers. Thunder Gulch had on his resume the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Swaps. This year, Point Given has won the San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, Belmont, and Haskell Invitational.

Like Thunder Gulch, Point Given will be ridden by Gary Stevens.

Point Given's difficult victory in the Haskell has given some trainers hope for the Travers. But, when you analyze the race, Point Given's half-length win over Touch Tone becomes more impressive. Not only did he miss three weeks of training due to a problem with his left hind hoof, which requires him to wear a bar shoe, but he was conceding five to nine pounds over a speed-favoring track.

In the Travers, all nine horses will carry 126 pounds while going 1 1/4 miles over what has been a fair main track all meet.

"A mile and a quarter, that's his kind of race," trainer Bob Baffert said. "I expect him to run so much better this time, otherwise I wasn't going to send him up there."

"If he runs his race," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of Point Given, "to get beat, somebody else has got to step up."

Scorpion, trained by Lukas, stepped up to win the Jim Dandy three weeks ago. A son of Seattle Slew, Scorpion had never won beyond seven furlongs and was winless in eight stakes tries before that race. Scorpion is picking up 12 pounds from the Jim Dandy.

The wild card in the Travers field is E Dubai. A son of Mr. Prospector, E Dubai looms the lone speed in the Travers, but must try to ration his speed for 10 furlongs. In his last start, E Dubai ran the opening six furlongs in 1:07.92 en route to a 5 3/4-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer. He will be ridden by Jerry Bailey, who rode Scorpion in the Jim Dandy.

"In all of his races he's drawn away in the stretch," said Tom Albertrani, assistant to Godolphin head trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "I don't see why he couldn't get an extra furlong."

Free of Love, who set a pressured pace when second in the Jim Dandy, figures to stalk E Dubai under Pat Day. With a victory, Day would tie Eddie Arcaro, Braulio Baeza, and Jimmy McLaughlin for the most Travers wins (four). Free of Love picks up 12 pounds from the Jim Dandy.

A P Valentine, a disappointing fourth in the Jim Dandy, will try to return to the form that enabled him to finish second in the Preakness and Belmont. Trainer Nick Zito has tabbed John Velazquez to replace Victor Espinoza.

Volponi, a son of 1987 Travers runner-up Cryptoclearance, could upset if he can duplicate his effort in winning a nine-furlong preliminary allowance race here on July 30. He does make a big step up in class, however, while picking up 10 pounds.

Dollar Bill, the hard-luck horse in the Triple Crown, gets blinkers and a jockey change to Jorge Chavez in hopes of turning his season around. Harrisand and Hadrian's Wall are longshots.

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