MAHATTAN H. | PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/4-MILES TURF
Phipps Stable's homebred Point of Entry was more workmanlike than flashy in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Manhattan Handicap, but the prohibitive 1-2 favorite ultimately got the job done at Belmont Park. First battling past Optimizer, and then repelling a bold bid from Real Solution, the Shug McGaughey charge edged away a 1 1/2-length winner.
Although much the best on paper, Point of Entry encountered less than ideal circumstances that could have combined to thwart a lesser horse. Unraced since upsetting champion Animal Kingdom in the February 9 Gulfstream Park Turf, he had to tote the top weight of 124 pounds on unsuitably yielding turf in this spot. Indeed, he had scratched from the May 4 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic -- and a showdown with Wise Dan -- at Churchill Downs because of rain-softened ground. There were no Wise Dans to deal with in the Manhattan, but Point of Entry still had to summon his reserves of class.
Regular rider John Velazquez settled the odds-on choice in the latter part of the field as the 23-1 Plainview showed the way through fractions of :23 4/5, :48 1/5 and 1:12 4/5. Optimizer kept tabs on the frontrunner, while Bombaguia raced farther back in third. Twilight Eclipse and Real Solution were just about in midpack, and Velazquez angled Point of Entry into the clear to join them on the backstretch.
Optimizer was the first on the premises when Plainview inevitably backed up, and he took over through a mile in 1:37 3/5. But Point of Entry was ranging up on the outside, and accosted the new leader entering the stretch. Optimizer proved stubborn to pass, but Point of Entry finally subdued him, only to find Real Solution emerge as a threat.
Point of Entry showed his championship-caliber mettle and rose to the challenge, despite conceding six pounds to Optimizer and nine to Real Solution. Finding more when required, the son of Dynaformer confirmed his superiority while negotiating 1 1/4 miles on the yielding inner turf in 2:02 2/5.
"We all know that this type of course is not his favorite," Velazquez said, "but every time you ask him to run, he gives you everything he has. It's really nice to be able to ride these kind of horses. Sometimes it looks like he's not going anywhere, but he's running hard. He's so big it takes him a long time to get going, but he still runs his heart out."
"I thought he got into a good stride," McGaughey recapped. "I was a little surprised at the early fractions, I thought maybe (John) Kimmel's horse (Bombaguia) would be the speed, then the six horse (Plainview) went and whoever it was. He got him into a good spot; Johnny said that's where he wanted him to be.
"For a horse who's only run one time since last November, carrying 124 pounds, I think it was probably starting to tell on him a little bit the last eighth, the last sixteenth of a mile. As I told Johnny today, 'It's going to be a grind for this horse today.' Soft turf, 124 pounds, hadn't run but one time last November, we missed a race.
"I'm very, very proud of what I saw today. I saw (Real Solution) coming, and I knew we were probably getting a little bit leg-weary, but I knew he'd go on and finish; it was just a matter of whether he'd finish fast enough. He's a very, very good horse."
Optimizer salvaged the runner-up spot by a neck from Real Solution, who was in turn 6 1/2 lengths up on fourth-placer Finnegans Wake. Twilight Eclipse, Plainview, Side Road and Bombaguia rounded out the order under the wire. Both of the Christophe Clement entrants were scratched -- Quick Casablanca, who trailed in Friday's Brooklyn Handicap in the slop, and Speaking of Which.
Point of Entry, who furnished mutuels of $3.10, $2.50 and $2.10, boosted his bankroll to $2,314,490 from his 17-9-3-1 line. He flashed talent at three, romping in an off-the-turf maiden at Belmont by 15 1/2 lengths, and finishing fourth in the Curlin on Saratoga's main track. McGaughey exercised his trademark patience by subsequently keeping him to allowance company on turf. Point of Entry began to come around with an entry-level allowance score at Gulfstream Park in December 2011, then wound up an excusable fourth at the same venue in February.
The well-bred Point of Entry, a half-brother to ill-fated multiple Grade 1 star Pine Island, has since gone on to win seven of his eight ensuing starts. He came into his own in the spring of 2012 with a course record-setting coup at Keeneland, and wheeled back 15 days later to take the Elkhorn. Freshened in the interim, Point of Entry returned to dominate the Man o' War by 3 1/2 lengths last July. He was similarly explosive in the Sword Dancer Invitational on August 18 at Saratoga, where he ran off by four lengths.
Point of Entry extended his skein to five with a professional display in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, despite not really relishing the boggy ground. His streak was halted in the Breeders' Cup Turf, where his chances were compromised by his losing tactical position right at the start. Although he finished like the proverbial freight train, the wire came in time for Little Mike.
Cutting back to 1 1/8 miles in his reappearance in the Gulfstream Park Turf, Point of Entry proved that his tremendous kick was just as effective over the shorter trip. He outkicked Animal Kingdom, who flattered the form by capturing the Dubai World Cup in his next start.
The Kentucky-bred is out of the winning Seeking the Gold mare Matlacha Pass, herself a full sister to Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Pleasant Home and multiple Grade 2 winner Country Hideaway, the dam of multiple Grade 2 vixen Boca Grande and Grade 3 victor Vacation. Matlacha Pass is also a full sister to Home Sweet Home, who has produced Japanese Grade 3 scorer Birdie Birdie.
Point of Entry's third dam is multiple Grade 1 winner Maplejinsky, who produced Hall of Famer Sky Beauty. His fourth dam is champion sprinter Gold Beauty, who also produced multiple European highweight Dayjur.
This family is also responsible for multiple Grade 1 winner Tale of Ekati and CashCall Futurity star Violence, a prominent 2013 Kentucky Derby contender before his career was prematurely ended by injury.