On merit and objectivity, Point Given deserves to be named Horse of the Year.
But don’t bet on it.
The most recent image in the minds of those who vote next month on the Eclipse Awards is Tiznow’s stirring nose victory over Arc winner Sakhee in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 27, not Point Given’s six stakes wins this year, the last of which came in August in the Travers.
Point Given has been retired due to injury since August. Presently, he is polishing his armor as he readies to become a stallion at $125,000 a pop. All he did before that was win six stakes, five of them Grade I’s, including two legs of the Triple Crown, the Preakness and the Belmont, after an enigmatic fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
Tiznow, the reigning Horse of the Year, is the only California-bred to win a Breeders’ Cup race in its 18-year history and is the only horse to win the Classic two years in a row.
But the reality is that in an abbreviated campaign of only six races, Tiznow won just three, including the once-prestigious Santa Anita Handicap on March 3. For a span of more than six months, the son of Cee’s Tizzy did not race. He was sidelined with a mysterious back ailment most of that time, and when he did return on Sept. 8, he finished a non-menacing third behind Lido Palace in the Woodward. In his next start, the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap, Tiznow again was a disinterested third, losing to reformed claimer Freedom Crest, who was dismissed at 39-1 in a six-horse field.
Tiznow is not likely to race again this year, if it’s up to trainer Jay Robbins. Robbins had been considering the $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 23. A victory in the Grade II event at 11/8 miles would have given Tiznow’s lobbyists more ammunition at the polls.
If he had run there, waiting for him would have been Lido Palace, who conquered him in the Woodward.
“I wanted to run against Tiznow,” said trainer Bobby Frankel, who was bent on putting Lido Palace in a position to be named the year’s best older horse. “If Lido Palace beat him twice,” Frankel said, “he’d deserve the Eclipse as top handicap horse.”
With the Clark out of the picture, Robbins was opting to have Tiznow make his grass debut in the Grade I Hollywood Turf Cup at 1Â½ miles on Dec. 1.
“We had been pointing to the Turf Cup, but if it’s up to me, I wouldn’t run him the rest of the year,” Robbins said. “I’m a little concerned how Tiznow will run on grass, because the offspring of Cee’s Tizzy don’t handle it well, and I’d have to ship him to Hollywood to work over that turf course, which I’m not inclined to do. As we speak, Michael (owner Michael Cooper) is in Kentucky trying to make stud arrangements for Tiznow when his racing days are over.”
Frankel, meanwhile, has no delusions about Lido Palace being named Horse of the Year, even if he wins the Clark.
“Point Given should win it,” said Frankel, who has saddled 44 stakes winners this year, including 14 in Grade I’s. “The only chance Tiznow has of being Horse of the Year is if he ran in the Clark against Lido Palace and beat him. If I’d beat him again, we deserve handicap horse. My horse beat him fair and square in the Woodward.”
Robbins, uncomfortable in the art of politicking, does not speak with forked tongue. “I can see Point Given’s attributes,” he says. “They’re terrific. Either horses is a viable candidate for Horse of the Year.” Maybe so. But any way the votes are tallied, Point Given should be the winner. Unless they’re counted in Florida.
THE HOMESTRETCH: Security is so tight at California tracks since the sponging incidents on the backstretch at Santa Anita last meet that even Laffit Pincay Jr. was stopped at an entrance gate at Hollywood Park for not displaying proper identification . . . Paco Gonzalez is another who maintains the rail was death at Belmont Park on Breeders’ Cup day. “I told Chris (McCarron, who rode Came Home), ”˜Finally, we drew a good post on the outside. Stay in the middle of the track. The inside is the bad part of the track.’ But Chris drifted over to the rail (and Came Home finished sixth after battling Officer on the pace), so what can you do?” The 56-year-old trainer says Came Home came out of the race in good shape and will face Officer and Siphon in the Dec. 15 Hollywood Futurity. Bienamado, Paco’s turf star, is recovering from a popped splint suffered at Del Mar. The splint later cracked, but Gonzalez hopes to have the son of Bien Bien ready for the Santa Anita meet that begins Dec. 26 . . . Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally had an extended stay in Europe when he was caught overseas in the midst of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. “He called me early Tuesday morning (Sept. 11) from Kentucky and he couldn’t get out,” said McAnally assistant Dan Landers. “He finally left Sunday night and was at Belmont Park Monday morning to watch a filly train. His last day at Del Mar was Thursday (Sept. 6). He went to Kentucky the next day and was in Kentucky all that time (a span of nearly two weeks). He had a flight to leave for New York from Cincinnati on the 11th, but it was cancelled, so he sat in Cincinnati a couple of days. He and (bloodstock agent) Murray (Friedlander) finally flew into Paris. Eventually, they got to Newmarket and looked at 30 horses, but Ron was disgusted over the entire experience. He said the terrorists were just a bunch of cowards.”