06/12/2001 11:00PM

Point Given's next rival may be foreign


You couldn't help being reminded of Secretariat: a big red equine machine drawing away through the Belmont stretch, leaving his generation in his wake. Of course, Point Given won this year's Belmont Stakes by only 12 1/4 lengths - not 31, as Secretariat won by in 1973 - but he annihilated a field acknowledged by everyone to be among the deepest in recent memory.

In the immediate post-race excitement I asked a few friends to make a guess about Point Given's Beyer Speed Figure. We discussed it for a few minutes, trying to take a measure off the distant second- and third-place finishers, A P Valentine and Monarchos. Even if A P Valentine regressed somewhat from his 107 in the Preakness, and Monarchos ran an ordinary (for him) 103-105, Point Given would be in the elite category of horses who have run a 120 Beyer or higher in a Triple Crown race. In fact, the feat has been accomplished only once in the past 15 years, by Easy Goer (122) in the 1989 Belmont. We all agreed that a figure in the 120 range appeared likely, especially considering the quality of the horses who finished 20, 30, even 40 lengths up the track.

But Point Given's figure for the Belmont was only a 114 - the best Belmont number in more than a decade, but not a world-shaking number. After all, Secretariat ran approximately a 139 in his Belmont, and Easy Goer, Bet Twice (116 in 1987), Risen Star (119 in 1988), and Unbridled (114 in 1990) all ran at least as fast as Point Given. The fact that Point Given had a perfect trip and that no other horse could even manage a 100 Beyer, also helped to temper my post-race enthusiasm.

After the crack-up of last year's Fusaichi Pegasus bandwagon, a review of Point Given's Triple Crown Beyer figures is in order. In the Derby, an inexplicably poor 99. In the Preakness, a 111 with a tough trip - impressive, but 111 is the average winning figure for Preakness winners over the past 15 years. The Beyer figure reality check should in no way diminish the authority or excitement of Point Given's performance, especially since it appears that he is still learning and developing. But we do need to keep perspective.

On Belmont Day, across the Atlantic at Epsom, England, another 3-year-old, Galileo, devastated his peers in a 1 1/2-mile classic. Like Point Given, Galileo sat just outside the two leaders in the Vodaphone Epsom Derby, stalking a moderate-to-slow pace. Then, with three furlongs to go, he brushed boldly to the lead and drew off at will, winning easily by 3 1/2 lengths. It was the second-fastest clocking in the 222-year history of the Derby.

The superlatives followed quickly. John Magnier, whose wife owns Galileo in partnership with Michael Tabor, said he had never seen a trainer so confident about a horse before a race. And since the trainer is Aidan O'Brien - the hottest one on the planet - the confidence is doubly impressive. The young trainer is not normally given to public pronouncements of enthusiasm for his horses. He usually is shy and uncomfortable in front of a camera. But Galileo loosened his tongue.

"He is extraordinary, a superstar, a very special horse," O'Brien said. "He really is a quite extraordinary horse, utterly amazing."

O'Brien almost couldn't contain himself, also saying: "This horse has so much tactical speed - no matter how fast they're going, he just finds it so easy to go very fast. Speed has always been his thing."

Jockey Michael Kinane said: "He's a hell of a horse. Wherever he goes, I'll turn up."

After two more races in England, O'Brien plans to have Galileo turn up at Belmont in the fall for the Breeders' Cup Classic, where he could likely meet up with Point Given, and we can test on the track the superlatives flying around about these two rising stars.

As for Galileo's prospects in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Coral Eurobet has already made him only 4-1. The book made Point Given the favorite, at 7-4.

The Europeans are already busy playing up the prospect of such a heavyweight confrontation, which has prompted Dick Mulhall, racing manager for Prince Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corporation, owners of Point Given, to issue a caveat about Galileo to one of England's racing newspapers.

"You guys have a horse win a maiden race and you've got him favourite for the Guineas," Mulhall is quoted saying. "You kind of jump the gun a little I think."

Mulhall also doubted that Galileo could overcome Point Given's home-country advantage.

But another question remains: Will Galileo run as powerfully on dirt?

"The dirt won't bother him," O'Brien said. "This horse would gallop on water."

We shall see. But the confidence is impressive. After all, O'Brien never said anything as outrageous about his last Classic runner - a horse named Giant's Causeway.