05/20/2001 11:00PM

For Point Given, best may be yet to come

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BALTIMORE - "Redemption" has been the most popular word to describe Point Given's victory in Saturday's Preakness Stakes after his astonishingly dull fifth as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. The most accurate word to describe Point Given's Preakness victory, however, is "overwhelming."

Point Given drew away late after wanting to lay all over Congaree in upper stretch, refusing to change leads until late, pricking his ears and generally acting like a big, dumb kid who was making the first start of his career instead of his 10th. What happens when this goofball finally puts his mind on business?

For me, the most impressive aspect of Point Given's Preakness was the bold, wide middle move he launched down the backstretch. After being ninth, 10 lengths off the lead, a quarter of a mile into the Preakness, Point Given gained 2 1/2 lengths into the hottest fraction of the race to be sixth, 7 1/2 lengths behind after a half-mile. Then, he gained another 7 1/4 lengths in the third quarter mile of the Preakness to be third, two heads off the lead. After running his first quarter-mile in nearly 26 seconds, Point Given's second quarter-mile shaded 23 seconds and his third quarter-mile was just a bit over 23 seconds. That is some serious running, and when you couple that with the way he drew off while barely applying himself, you're talking about a major talent.

No one has been harder on A P Valentine this year than me. Part of the reason is the hyperbole emanating from his camp, which seemed desperately designed to justify his enormous value, which was established by the sale of half-interest in him last fall. The talk about A P Valentine's greatness rubbed me the wrong way, because he is as far from being a great horse as I am from being a millionaire. A P Valentine still isn't a great horse; he is only 3 for 9. But he did run a good race - his best race ever - to be second in the Preakness. A P Valentine was caught between horses and had some traffic difficulty. He was a willing accomplice when jockey Victor Espinoza, who was fired as Congaree's rider after the Derby, rode the hair off him to snare the place from none other than Congaree.

Congaree ran well to be third. Maybe he wasn't completely 100 percent after his gut-wrenching third in the Derby two weeks earlier, but he wasn't totally empty as a lot of people feared he might be, and that speaks volumes for his intestinal fortitude. Congaree's awkward start didn't help, and his relative inexperience betrayed him when he was rank past the stands the first time and again down the backstretch. Congaree never really settled comfortably, and still he was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths.

Unless it's a wet surface, I despise the excuse "so and so didn't handle the track," because it is almost always a smoke screen intended to cover up other deficiencies. However, Monarchos probably didn't care for the Pimlico strip, which was much more reasonable than the interstate highway at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.

Certainly, Monarchos's runaway victory in the Derby was enhanced by a perfect pace setup. But from what he has shown this year, he is obviously a much better horse than the one who finished sixth Saturday.

One excuse Monarchos doesn't have is the Preakness pace, which wasn't insane like the Derby pace, but was honest. As noted, Point Given came from 10 lengths back to win. A P Valentine came from seventh to be second, and Dollar Bill . . .

Let's talk about Dollar Bill. He was warmed up enthusiastically before the race, as if to put him on his toes and into the race earlier, and indeed, he was closer early in the run to the first turn. But, early on the backstretch, Dollar Bill was checked from between horses. Then, nearing the far turn, he was taken up from between horses, losing all his momentum, and he dropped back to last. Much to his credit, Dollar Bill wasn't discouraged. He came widest of all into the stretch - the chart says a generous nine wide - and from that point on he blew by seven horses, including Monarchos, to be a fast closing fourth.

Maybe Dollar Bill is the type of horse who looks for trouble. Maybe he's a sucker horse. The one way to know for sure is to try a change or two. Heck, name me to ride him. Dollar Bill would have to carry 85 pounds overweight, but could I do any worse?