Tom’s Top 10: Heavyweight Clash

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The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a good time to look back. This exercise – coming up with our most memorable moments from racing in 2013 and putting pen to them – has been difficult and easy. Easy to remember some great days. Difficult to whittle the list down.

Along the way there have been some powerful performances, poignant moments, singular standouts and tough beats. Every once in a while there was a clash of titans if you will, with two of the very best in the same race. I knew this one would be special as I made the trek from Ocala to Hallandale Beach the weekend after the Super Bowl.

No. 3. Point of Entry vs. Animal Kingdom. Talk about a showdown. The Kitten’s Joy Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap featured just about the best mano-a-mano clash racing could provide that early in the year. It was certainly more interesting than the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers a week earlier.

In one corner there was Point of Entry, beaten a diminishing half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Turf three months earlier after winning four straight stakes for Shug McGaughey. In the other there was Animal Kingdom, Kentucky Derby winner from 2011 who was second to eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile three months earlier.

Both were pointed toward bigger and more lucrative spots down the road, Point of Entry to big turf stakes on the East Coast, maybe the Arlington Million and a return in the Breeders’ Cup; Animal Kingdom to the $10 million Dubai World Cup and Royal Ascot. A $300,000 grass stakes going 9 furlongs seemed like a good spot to start, but the connections of both made no bones they were in it to win it.

Point of Entry and John Velazquez won it and a lot of people felt like Joel Rosario lost it on Animal Kingdom.

Jockeys get a lot of credit and a lot of blame for wins and losses. It’s part of the game, probably not completely fair and exaggerated by a lot of talking heads, weekend warriors and people who wear out a path from the press parking lot to the press box.

The outcome of the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap gave the latter group plenty of fodder. The consensus was that Joel Rosario moved to soon on Animal Kingdom, costing the horse the race. Graham Motion thought so, too, commenting to me the next morning outside his barn at Palm Meadows that “we got outsmarted” and at the same time conceding that “I don’t necessarily think it was all Joel’s fault.”

Rosario was riding Animal Kingdom for the first time, while John Velazquez was familiar with Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom. He was aboard for three of those four stakes wins and for the Breeders’ Cup in 2012. He’d also ridden Animal Kingdom to victory in the Kentucky Derby.

Velazquez put point of Entry in all the right spots in the Gulfstream Park Turf and was rewarded for it. He’d done it hundreds of times prior and once he comes back from injury suffered at the Breeders’ Cup in November he’ll do it many times over again.

The race, officially decided by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:47 after a sizzling :33.76 final 3 furlongs for the winner, served Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom quite well.

Point of Entry won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan in his next start, after missing the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby day due to the soft turf, before an injury knocked him out for most of the season. He still managed to return in time for the Breeders’ Cup, where he finished a competitive fourth.

Animal Kingdom won the Dubai World Cup, the first American-based winner of the world’s richest race since Well Armed in 2009. He didn’t show his true self in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot though, finishing 11th in what would be his final career start.

They obviously never raced again, but they did that day and helped give plenty of credence to Gulfstream’s billing of the day’s races as Superstar Saturday.

Watch the Gulfstream Park Turf.

Read more about “The Move.”

More of Tom’s list

Number 4.

Number 5.

Number 6.

Numbers 8 and 7.

Numbers 10 and 9.