08/15/2001 11:00PM

Point Given looks likely for Travers


DEL MAR, Calif. - Although the official decision will not be made until the weekend, it looked likely on Thursday that Point Given would return to the East Coast for the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 25.

Point Given returned to the track at Del Mar on Thursday morning for the first time since working on Tuesday, and was so eager to train that his trainer, Bob Baffert, remarked, "The Big Red Train is back."

Prince Ahmed Salman, whose The Thoroughbred Corporation owns Point Given, was expected to arrive in Southern California from Saudi Arabia on Friday afternoon. Richard Mulhall, the racing manager for The Thoroughbred Corp., said he would meet with the prince and Baffert later that day and make a decision on the Travers.

But both Baffert and Mulhall said they were thrilled with Point Given's progress. Baffert even went ahead and booked hotel rooms next week in Saratoga, "just in case," he said.

Baffert and Mulhall also were mulling over race schedules for the rest of the year for Point Given. Most likely, Point Given will be off from the Travers until the Oct. 7 Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, which would be his final prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at Belmont Park.

Point Given, who is wearing a bar shoe on his left rear hoof, was re-shod on Wednesday.

Officer scaring 'em away

A dazzling seven-length win by Officer in Wednesday's $150,000 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar left a stunned group of rival horsemen looking for reasons to avoid a rematch in the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5.

Officer turned the Grade 3 Best Pal Stakes into a public workout, winning his graded stakes debut effortlessly. He beat two opponents, runner-up Metatron and Essence of Dubai.

Two others were scratched. Ecstatic was withdrawn on Wednesday morning, while Werblin was scratched with two minutes to post after jockey Chris McCarron was unhappy with the way he warmed up. On Thursday, trainer Eduardo Inda said

Werblin was found to have a stone bruise and would miss a few days of training. He will miss the Del Mar Futurity, the meeting's top race for 2-year-olds.

Officer ($3) set a stakes record of 1:15.08 for 6 1/2 furlongs and was never asked for a serious effort by jockey Victor Espinoza. He recorded a Beyer Speed Figure of 106, the fastest for a 2-year-old colt this year.

A California-bred owned by Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp., Officer is unbeaten in three starts, having won a maiden race at Hollywood Park on July 6 and the Graduation Stakes for California-breds on July 25.

"He showed today he's in another league," trainer Bob Baffert said in the winner's circle. "We don't know how good he is. He won like he did last time; he was just cruising."

The two that finished behind Officer will not start in the Del Mar Futurity. Metatron will try an allowance race, according to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, while Essence of Dubai is bound for the $200,000 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 1, according to trainer Eoin Harty.

Harty was philosophical about being beaten so convincingly.

"You can look at it two ways - he was third or he was last," Harty said of Essence of Dubai. "I prefer to think he was third. My ego was bruised. My horse's was not."

Harty said he may run a maiden in the Del Mar Futurity, but only if the field is small. As of Wednesday, the only other probables for the Futurity are Came Home and Kamsack. Came Home won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship on July 15 and is in training at Santa Anita with Paco Gonzalez. Kamsack, a maiden winner in his debut on July 28, is trained by Christopher Paasch.

Paasch said Roman Dancer, a maiden winner in his debut on Aug. 4, is being considered for the Hopeful. Another stakes-placed 2-year-old who will not start in the Del Mar Futurity is A Major Pleasure, who was third in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship. He is being pointed for two divisions of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder later this year, according to owner Ron Anson.

Despite the absence of many top rivals in the Del Mar Futurity, a victory would enhance Officer's reputation. Some horsemen already are deeply impressed by him.

"I don't think we've seen a 2-year-old performance like that since Arazi," Harty said, in reference to the 1991 winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"If he says sound, we could be looking at a 2-year-old champion."

El Cajon for I Love Silver

I Love Silver, who was third in the Santa Anita Derby in April, is being pointed to the $75,000 El Cajon Stakes on Sept. 1 following a seven-length victory in a seven-furlong allowance race here on Aug. 11.

Trainer Dean Greenman had considered running I Love Silver in the King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 25, but has opted to stay home.

"The race was too impressive to ship him back there in two weeks," Greenman said.

A winner of 3 of 10 starts, I Love Silver has yet to win a stakes, but was second to Point Given in the San Felipe Stakes last March.

Fashionably late?

European import Golden Apples will be a longshot in Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks, but trainer Ben Cecil hopes that history works in his favor. Last year, trainer Neil Drysdale won the Del Mar Oaks with No Matter What, who arrived days before the race from Europe. Golden Apples cleared quarantine on Wednesday night and spent her first morning at Cecil's stable on Thursday. "They either run very well or they're disappointing," he said of recent overseas arrivals. "I think coming in at the last possible moment is the best way."

Golden Apples is owned by Gary Tanaka of London, who had many horses with Cecil until last winter, when the two split up over a disagreement. Cecil did not discuss specifics, but said the two spoke during the Royal Ascot meeting in June.

"We had a few differences of opinions on things," Cecil said. "We'd certainly had a lot of luck in the past."

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen

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