Updated on 09/16/2011 6:52AM

Point Given's year fit for a prince


MIAMI - The theme of redemption, renewal, and perseverance permeated Monday night's Eclipse Awards dinner at the Fontainebleau Hilton Hotel, especially for Prince Ahmed Salman, who cherished the gold Horse of the Year statue won by his colt, Point Given.

Salman, who bred and raced Point Given under his stable name, The Thoroughbred Corporation, made a poignant acceptance speech that touched on his love of racing, his joy in watching Point Given run, his disappointment in having to retire the colt early, the loss of his older brother, Prince Fahd Salman, and the Sept. 11 tragedies.

"I had three tragedies in my life last year," Salman said. "My best friend in my life, I lost, my older brother. Point Given was hurt. He was like my son. And September 11."

Salman, who lives in Saudi Arabia, did not travel to the United States in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11; like other Arab owners, he did not attend the Breeders' Cup in New York. His presence on Monday night was a welcome surprise, the only prominent Arab owner to attend the awards dinner.

The symbolism could not have been lost on those in attendance at the black-tie dinner, which was hosted with a deft, droll touch by Kenny Mayne of ESPN. The events of Sept. 11 were repeatedly acknowledged. There were video images from the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, and an acknowledgement of two men - the Florida breeder Harry Mangurian and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the defense minister of the United Arab Emirates. Each made significant contributions to a charity formed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association for victims of Sept. 11. Tim Smith, the NTRA commissioner, called 2001 "an extraordinary and bittersweet year" before he announced that Point Given had been named Horse of the Year.

Point Given beat out fellow Horse of the Year finalists Tiznow, who was the 2000 Horse of the Year and the 2001 champion older horse, and Johannesburg, the champion 2-year-old colt of 2001. Point Given carried all three voting blocs - Daily Racing Form, the NTRA, and the National Turf Writers' Association. He also was a unanimous winner as champion 3-year-old colt.

Earlier in the evening, when Salman accepted Point Given's Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old, he said, "It is an honor and a pleasure to be here. Today we all live in trying times. We will move forward, but we will never, never forget."

Salman was seated with his racing manager, Richard Mulhall, and Point Given's trainer, Bob Baffert. Salman leaped to his feet and hugged Baffert when Point Given's name was announced as Horse of the Year. Salman said he feared Tiznow would win, especially when the NTRA brought in New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to present the champion older horse trophy to Tiznow.

Early in December, Belichick used a tape of Tiznow's courageous performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic as inspiration for his team, which had a 7-5 record at the time. After watching the tape, the Patriots did not lose a game and went on to win Super Bowl XXXVI. Asked if he thought the presence of Belichick might have been a tipoff that Tiznow would be Horse of the Year, Salman said, "That's what I thought."

"To win over Tiznow, that is a great achievement, because Tiznow was a great horse," Salman said.

Always quick with a joke, Salman did not disappoint.

"I'd like to thank Richard Mulhall, who calls me in the kingdom at 3 or 4 in the morning when a race is being run, swearing every time when a horse loses," Salman said. "And special thanks to Bob Baffert. He is a great trainer, and he knows how to joke."

Point Given won six times in seven starts in 2001, winning five Grade 1 races. He won four consecutive Grade 1 races, all worth at least $1 million, becoming the first horse to win four straight million-dollar races. But because his career ended in August, Baffert, in particular, was worried that Point Given's brilliant year would be forgotten.

"This business, like a lot of businesses, has short memories," Baffert said. "Watching those videos of him tonight reminded me of what a great horse we had. He had the size, speed, balance, and build, and the mental capability to handle pressure. I've never trained a Horse of the Year, so this is a big moment for me."

Point Given, by Thunder Gulch out of the Turkoman mare Turko's Turn, tipped his hand in 2000 at age 2. He won three times and was second three times in six starts, including a narrow loss in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Last year, Point Given scored easy victories in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita and the Santa Anita Derby, to head into the Kentucky Derby as the favorite. But he chose the wrong day to run the worst race of his life. He finished fifth, 11 1/2 lengths behind Monarchos, after chasing a hot early pace.

"It was a combination of the surface and the race shape," Baffert said. "He had the wrong kind of style that day."

Point Given did not lose again. Beginning in the Preakness Stakes, regular jockey Gary Stevens allowed Point Given to cruise along early under his own power, before beginning a steady, relentless charge at the leaders. He won the Preakness by 2 1/4 lengths, then turned in the best performance of his career in the Belmont Stakes, winning by 12 1/4 lengths.

Point Given had become the most popular horse in the country. Record crowds showed up at Monmouth Park to see him win the Haskell Invitational, and at Saratoga to see him win the Travers Stakes. "He was like a rock star," Baffert said.

But less than one week after the Travers, Point Given was found to have an injured suspensory ligament, and he was retired. He won 9 of 13 starts, and earned $3,968,500, and is now at stud at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky.

"The morning I found out he was hurt, I saw Bob at the barn," Salman said. "I thought he had lost one of his children; he was more depressed than I was."

"It was horrible the day I found out he was injured," Baffert said. "I don't know when I'll get one like him. I was hoping the voters wouldn't forget. Thankfully, they didn't."

About the voting

The Eclipse Award electorate consists of three groups: 50 editors and writers at Daily Racing Form, 128 members of the National Turf Writers' Association, and 52 racing secretaries and trackmen representing the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

In most categories, each group's first choice gets 10 points, second choice 5 points, and third choice 1 point. The maximum possible total is 30 points.

The Horse of the Year and awards for people are more straightforward: Each group's first chocie gets 1 point. The maximum possible total is 3 points.

The media awards and special Eclipses are decided by panels, and no vote totals are announced.