A Triple Crown winner who wasn't
By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
On a sparkling late spring afternoon in New York, a special horse turned in a special performance in the Belmont Stakes. Point Given's race was as good as it gets on a day of racing that was as good as it gets. It was an absolutely wonderful day at Belmont Park, which is an absolutely wonderful racetrack.
Because Point Given should having won the stinking Triple Crown. That's why!
Ugh. Double, triple ugh. Make that quadruple ugh.
Everyone wants to see another horse sweep the Triple Crown, something that hasn't happened since 1978. For my money, it is the greatest accomplishment not just in racing, but in all sports. There is nothing like it. It is thrilling, tantalizing, memorable, spectacular, monumental, something to tell your grandchildren, something for your grandchildren to tell their grandchildren.
Yet, every time a horse comes close, something goes wrong. We had Real Quiet lose by a hair to Victory Gallop. We saw Charismatic break down after the finish of the Belmont. There was Risen Star getting a brutal trip in the Kentucky Derby before winning the Preakness and Belmont. And, of course, there was the crazy safety pin story with Spectacular Bid way back in 1979.
Some of the aforementioned horses deserved to win the Triple Crown. Some didn't. But no near-miss horse was more worthy of winning the Triple Crown than Point Given.
A Triple Crown winner must be easily the best of his generation and a special kind of horse. Point Given proved in the Belmont that he is both. First he cakewalks in the Preakness and then he destroys the competition in the final leg of the Triple Crown, winning the Belmont by 12 1/4 lengths. There are some good 3-year-olds around, but they don't breathe the same air that Point Given does. He is a Rolls Royce. They are Buick Skylarks.
"He put on a show today ... an unbelievable show," winning jockey Gary Stevens said.
But Stevens couldn't help wondering what might have been.
"I'm obviously excited about this performance today, but it's bittersweet," he said. "When he's retired and it's all said and done, he should have had a Triple Crown in his belt. It's not going to be there."
No, it is not.
It all goes back to the Kentucky Derby. Point Given was this year's hype horse, the great chestnut hope who would blow them away in the Kentucky Derby, win the Preakness and become only the 12th Triple Crown winner in history in the Belmont. In hindsight, those who were jumping up and down telling the world how great Point Given was weren't wrong. This horse turned out to be as good as advertised, except for one inexplicable, miserable day.
Point Given was not Point Given in the Derby. An imposter showed up that day, a horse that ran a lethargic fifth. This remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in racing. What happened?
Maybe it was the track surface. There have been a half dozen or so really good horses in recent years who didn't run a lick in the Kentucky Derby only to run huge races in the Preakness. Whatever it is about Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, some horses just don't show up on the first Saturday in May. Maybe it was the pace. He was closer to that brutal pace than he should have been. Maybe it was the heat. Some horses just melt on days like that. Maybe it's just that the Triple Crown is so unbelievably hard to win and that's the way it's supposed to be.
Better yet, maybe it was just one of those things.
"It's something where we'll never know what happened," trainer Bob Baffert said.
Whatever. He lost the Kentucky Derby and it's just not fair. The best horse did not win the Kentucky Derby. The horse who should have won the Triple Crown will merely go down as the 43rd horse in history to win two-thirds of the series. He'll be lined up along with such non-entities as Kauai King, Tabasco Cat and Bimelech.
"We've got a long year and there are some classics left," Stevens said.
Who cares? Let him win the Travers, the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Arc de Triomphe, the Grand National and everything else in between. It will never compare to winning the Triple Crown. Racing fans, we got jobbed this year, and you know what, I'm not happy about it.
Oh well, life will go on ... I suppose.