02/17/2006 12:00AM

Point of Impact one to watch

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PHOENIX - Just a couple years ago trainer Bob Baffert had a runner who looked too good to be a maiden. His name was Wimbledon, and it took him more than a few outings to finally break through and win a race. But when he finally did, he broke right into the big time; he went from a maiden winner at Santa Anita to an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby - and, by virtue of that big win, stamped himself a player for the Kentucky Derby.

All hopes were dashed, however, when Wimbledon came up injured just days before the Derby.

Well, Baffert has another talented runner in his barn who finally won his maiden at Santa Anita on Thursday and might well have punched his ticket to bigger and better things.

The horse is Point of Impact, and there has been a buzz about him for quite some time. He's a strong, powerfully built son of champion Point Given, and, in fact, looks remarkably similar to his daddy. First, there were his works. As a matter of routine, Point of Impact would dazzle in the a.m., while hinting that there was much more he could deliver.

Then there was his first race. He probably wasn't supposed to win it; it was at 5 1/2 furlongs, certainly too short for him, and it was in the slop. He blew the start and ran into the quick Totally Gone, who loved the wet going. Point of Impact made a sustained run and a strong finish, hinting that he would run better going longer.

Going a mile in his second start, Point of Impact broke alertly, but when it came time to turn left at the clubhouse turn he kept going straight and ended up closer to Huntington Boulevard than the inside rail. To his credit, he moved up eagerly on the backside and far turn to at least get back into the race. He couldn't maintain that run, and ended up fourth, behind the impressive winner, Really Indian.

On Thursday, Point of Impact won a Santa Anita allowance race, a day before his owner, Bob Lewis, died. Point of Impact not only turned left when he needed to, he did it deftly. He also showed enough speed to get decent position, moved up into contention, and was workmanlike taking over in the lane. It reminded me of another horse - Wimbledon.

There will be detractors. Point of Impact didn't run all that fast (95 Beyer), and again showed some greenness, lugging in and failing to draw off when the opportunity arose. Brad Free wrote in Daily Racing Form on Saturday that Point of Impact will be fun to watch, but is "a long way from becoming a Derby prospect."

Well, I agree and disagree.

Point of Impact is a work in progress, much as Wimbledon was two years ago. Surely, he has a long way to go to be considered ready to compete with hot Derby prospect Brother Derek and company, but he took the most important step in that direction Thursday. And it is only in mid-February, and you don't have to look like a Derby horse just yet. Did Funny Cide or War Emblem or Grindstone or Giacomo look like Derby horses at this juncture in their careers? Not really. Point of Impact has plenty of time to get there.

My new hero

We are blessed in this game with some wonderful people, but I have a new hero - Carol Farmer, the wife of owner and breeder Tracy Farmer.

The Farmers bred Storm Uprising, a son of Storm Cat and the champion mare Hidden Lake who sold for $400,000 at the 2002 Keeneland September yearling sale. Storm Uprising never really lived up to his pedigree and Carol Farmer noticed that Storm Uprising opened this season with a sixth-place finish in a claiming race at Turfway Park. She bought the 5-year-old gelding and promptly retired him to the Thoroughbred Racing Foundation's farm at Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, Ky.

"I feel people in this industry need to be responsible," Farmer was quoted as saying. "If we are the ones who brought them into the world, then we have to make sure they go out with dignity."

Well done.