Making His Point: Point Of Entry wins Sword Dancer

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Back in the summer, in The Saratoga Special, we were covering Point Of Entry, who recently won his fourth Grade 1 – taking down the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap over Animal Kingdom. The Phipps Stable runner hearkens back to an earlier age in racing. Here’s the story.

No noseband. No rundown bandages. Big-ring snaffle bit. Blinkers straight out of a Joe Palmer book. Plain bay horse.

Point Of Entry won a Grade 1 at Saratoga Saturday, but it could have been 1966. It could have been Buckpasser (well, he wore a noseband). The history was not lost on winning trainer Shug McGaughey, who engineered the 4-year-old colt’s victory in the $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational. Owned and bred by the Phipps Stable, Point Of Entry roared from fourth to first in the stretch, drawing away to win by 4 lengths as the 7-5 favorite. John Velazquez rode the winner, who covered 1 1/2 miles in 2:26.40. Al Khali picked up the crumbs to be second with Brilliant Speed third.

The son of Dynaformer won his fourth consecutive race, his second Grade 1, and put himself in any conversation about the best turf horses in the country.

“It’s a privilege for me to be part of it, to be part of the tradition,” said McGaughey. “To be able to come up with a good horse like this for them makes it all the more satisfying to me. To have a day like today, nobody knows what’s going to happen, but at least we’re in the ballgame.”

Like Derek Jeter. Though he follows a host of champions and Hall of Famers to fly the black and red silks and live in that first barn inside the Fifth Avenue gate, Point Of Entry won’t sit behind anybody in the 2012 lineup card.

With Turbo Compressor the clear pace player, Velazquez let Point Of Entry break sharply and hustled to a spot from post two, racing past Al Khali in a few strides and then allowing Turbo Compressor to clear. The new leader stepped to the front and backed down the pace, getting the first quarter-mile in 24.89 seconds as Center Divider took second and Point Of Entry rated in third. With Velazquez rationing his horse’s cadence, Point Of Entry was inside, hidden, cushioned, alone in a nine-horse field. Turbo Compressor got a half in 49.45 as Newsdad advanced outside horses and into third. Point Of Entry never changed, just sat fourth instead of third as Brilliant Speed moved nearby in fifth.

Turbo Compressor reached the halfway point in 1:13.77 and felt his first real pressure from Center Divider. Newsdad moved outside them through a mile in 1:37.90. Still, Velazquez waited – angling out slightly on the turn to follow Newsdad.

And then he didn’t. Newsdad took an awkward step and bounced wider, sending Point Of Entry back inside.

“Right before the half-mile pole, I was leaning out on Joel Rosario (aboard Newsdad), he made a bad step and I had to go back inside because I was going to hit him from behind,” said Velazquez. “When I got back to the inside, my horse got into the bridle really bad, because I was right on the heels of the horses in front of me, I had to just wait there until the horse outside moved, then I could push my way out.”

Just before the end of the turn, Velazquez saw his opportunity and pushed. Point Of Entry slid to the four path, switched leads when he straightened and blasted past. The race ended as soon as the winner started really running.

McGaughey, at his spot leaning on a pole next to Box B-27 just past the finish line, watched the whole thing – tense at first, and glancing at his pocket program, the big screen, the track. He crossed his arms at the three-eighths pole, let wife Alison lead the cheering section next door and smiled as his horse pushed out his sixth win and lifted his career earnings past $934,000.

“He was real good today; I’ve seen it before but you know, we were stepping it up,” he said. “Brilliant Speed, Al Khali, some nice horses. He’s still 4, still getting there a little bit. The pace was good but it wasn’t that quick. He ran really big, good feeling.”

Out of Matlacha Pass and therefore a half-brother to 2006 Alabama and Gazelle winner Pine Island, Point Of Entry didn’t run at 2 though his debut came as an early 3-year-old in January at Gulfstream Park. Fourth behind future star Fort Larned going a mile on the dirt, he broke his maiden going 9 furlongs on the dirt at Belmont in May, then finished second to Sky Blazer on the turf (the first time Velazquez rode him). Fourth in the Curlin on dirt here last summer, Point Of Entry moved to the turf for good and added blinkers at Belmont last September – he’s won five times since including stakes wins in the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland and Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont.

“The first time I rode him on the grass at Belmont, I said ‘if this horse just puts it together, he will be a very good horse,’ then we ran him back on the dirt here in Saratoga,” said Velazquez. “He was just an average horse, I told Shug, ‘he’s OK on the dirt but I think he’s a better grass horse.’ I’m glad he didn’t prove me wrong. He’s gotten better and better every race, every time we stepped him up, he got better. The distance will help him out, I cost him the race when he got beat going a mile and an eighth in Florida, we got beat 2 lengths, it was my fault, it wasn’t the horse’s fault.”

McGaughey credited that defeat with helping Velazquez learn about the horse, who has not lost since.

“He’s been wanting to be a good horse, he’s just now learning how to be,” said McGaughey. “It’s age, maturity, growing into his body, letting him learn. Johnny learned a lot about him in the race he was fourth in down in Florida, it probably worked out good because then I was able to run him in an a-other-than at Keeneland going long. So, sometimes disappointments make good things.”

After winning two Grade 1 stakes, Pine Island broke down in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, so McGaughey knows that statement and all the horses that came before this one well.

“It goes back a long way,” he said. “I trained the mother, her sisters and everything else so it’s a good family. Believe me, you don’t know it until they do it. I’ve had a lot of them out of good families that weren’t good. But I think we’ve found a good one.”