American Pharoah and Point Given had two distinctly different personalities.
Bob Baffert trained both, and knows.
You could bring a baby up to American Pharoah, and he would give the kid what is essentially a horse kiss.
Not such a good idea with Point Given.
What they share, though, is to have been talented enough that any belief by Baffert on how best to tackle the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course goes out the window.
The ideal scenario, Baffert said the day after American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes, is to run in the Jim Dandy early in the meet, thus getting a race over the track (presumably a victory), then use that prep as a stepping stone to the big race.
Point Given was so good that Baffert eschewed the Jim Dandy, ran him in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, then won the Travers by 3 1⁄2 lengths.
He’ll attempt to do the same thing with his Triple Crown winner on Saturday.
Many of us twisted ourselves in knots trying to come up with the perfect gameplan for the rest of American Pharoah’s races. There’s enough evidence that Jim Dandy-Travers is the way to go and that Haskell-Travers is not a great idea. Baffert tried it with Bayern last year, and it was a last-place why-did-we-come-here disaster.
But American Pharoah — and Point Given before him — so exceeds any horse we’re used to seeing that conventional thinking doesn’t apply.
“I really think you are better off running in the Jim Dandy. Del Mar is kind of the same way,” Baffert said during a national teleconference on Tuesday afternoon. “If it was a different horse, you would do that, but a horse like Pharoah or Point Given, you can get away with it.”
Point Given ran seven times as a 3-year-old, and was retired a week after the Travers with a strained tendon.
His only loss, a fifth in the Kentucky Derby, denied him the Triple Crown, something that still gnaws at Baffert.
Still, Point Given was a Horse of the Year for Baffert, and American Pharoah will be his second when the Eclipse Awards are announced.
“Point Given, he was a big beast,” Baffert said. “When he was on the track, he’d pull his little stunts, rear up, but around the barn, he was pretty quiet.
“The thing that makes Pharoah so special is he has a great personality. He likes people, he likes attention. Point Given, you couldn’t allow an infant around him, but Pharoah, you can bring a kid up to him and he’ll nuzzle the infant. When he’s on the track, he just wants to take over.”
Besides Point Given and Bayern, Baffert’s history in the Travers amounts to a third with Roman Ruler in 2005, a 10th with Coil in 2011 and a ninth with Liaison in 2012.
The race has not been kind to him since 2001.
This one will be kind in one sense, no matter where American Pharoah finishes. Point Given was the big horse coming to town in 2001, but his appearance doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we’ll see when Pharoah shows up, starting with his much-anticipated landing of the Tex Sutton Boeing 727 — dubbed Air Horse One — at Albany International Airport this afternoon.
The horse will be on the track for a gallop with the other Travers horses from 8:45-9 a.m. on Friday, and Saratoga will shake on Saturday.
“I feel like I’m bringing the Beatles,” Baffert said.
As for any trepidation, perceived or otherwise, that Baffert doesn’t like the Travers or the Saratoga main track surface, again, Pharoah is a different animal.
“I was getting that question 100 times a day, and everybody wants to be the first to get something so they can tweet it out,” Baffert said. “I just wanted to let people know that if I see something wrong, this horse doesn’t owe us anything. I didn’t want to say, ‘Yes’ and then let everyone down. I didn’t want people spending their summer savings and then not show up.”