If any of the opposition has it in mind to upset the imposing Point of Entry on Saturday in the 141st running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, they had better be ready to run a career-best race.
Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey made absolutely clear Wednesday morning that his 2012 Eclipse Award finalist for top Male Turf Horse is set to go off a four-month layoff.
“I’ll tell you one thing, there isn’t a horse on the grounds training any better than him,” McGaughey said. “He’s fresh. You can ask [exercise rider] Jenn [Patterson]. I was laughing at her this morning because she had all she could handle. He’s about as good as a horse can get.”
The 1 ¼-mile Woodford Reserve Manhattan will be Point of Entry’s first race since February 9, when the 5-year-old Phipps Stable homebred son of Dynaformer won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap over subsequent Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom.
McGaughey had Point of Entry ready to run on Kentucky Derby Day in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic against Horse of the Year Wise Dan, but scratched the day of the race.
“It was a mile and an eighth on soft turf there , so I have no problems about what I did,” McGaughey said.
Last year, Point of Entry won five of seven starts and more than $1.7 million, taking the Grade 1 Man o’ War, Sword Dancer and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. Little Mike upset him by a half-length in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The Woodford Reserve Manhattan wasn’t originally on Point of Entry’s schedule this year, but it comes along at the right time for McGaughey, who said his horse is ready to get down to business.
“If we had run at Churchill, we wouldn’t have run Saturday,” he said. “We would have run in the Man o’ War, then the Arlington Million, Turf Classic and the Breeders’ Cup. The main objective is the Breeders’ Cup. When we didn’t run [at Churchill], we needed to run in the Manhattan because we needed to run.”
Point of Entry has proven to be a remarkably tractable horse, capable of laying close to the pace or coming from far back. For the Manhattan, McGaughey said he expects to be forwardly placed, and plenty of speed has signed on in the 10-horse field.
Chief among the burners might be Plainview, a 5-year-old gelded son of Street Cry, who has not been headed turning for home in his past six starts. While he has won four of those, the Gregory DiPrima-trained runner has been competing in allowance and optional claiming races.
Trainer John Kimmel had been hoping that his own 5-year-old gelding, Bombaguia, might be the controlling speed in the race. Coming off a superb run in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy, in which he desperately sought running room in the stretch behind tiring horses, Bombaguia missed by a half-length when he got clear. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile race was a torrid 1:38.89.
Bombaguia led nearly every step in the 1 ¼-mile Grade 2 Bowling Green last September until Air Support caught him at the end, and Kimmel hopes for even better in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan.
“He ran very well [in the Bowling Green], and he’s a lot better horse this year than last year,” Kimmel said. “Then, the effort in the Fort Marcy, he should have won by a mile. He got stopped three times. He went inside, he went outside; it was hard to watch, and it was just off the track record.
“My horse is doing really well, and this is his third race on the form cycle. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do this year. I cut him last year, and I think he makes a better gelding.”
Another formidable entrant appears to be Twilight Eclipse, a gelding whose racing life began humbly as a $1,000 purchase at the 2010 Keeneland January Sale. After two starts and two wins last June at Indiana Downs, the son of the late stallion Purim was purchased by West Point Thoroughbreds, and at times he has been devastating.
This past winter, Twilight Eclipse won the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder Race Course and the Grade 2 Pan American at Gulfstream Park. He has not competed since establishing a world record 2:22.63 for 1 ½ miles on the turf in the Pan American on March 23.
“We’re excited to get him back on track,” said trainer Tom Albertrani. “We gave him a break between the Pan American and the Manhattan because we know he’s a horse that wants to run in these longer races. We wanted to freshen him up for a summer campaign.”
Albertrani didn’t know what he had on his hands when Twilight Eclipse came into his barn, now he has him on course for the Woodford Reserve Manhattan and possibly the Sword Dancer at Saratoga and maybe even races in Australia and Japan.
“I had no idea what to expect,” he said. “He came in from Indiana to New York. We’re thinking, where, exactly, are you going to fit? It’s hard for a horse to come in from a place like that and move up the ladder. He’s been on top of his game coming up to this race.”
Contention in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan field runs deep. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has Optimizer, a multiple graded stakes winner on the grass, who is coming off a third-place finish, beaten a half-length, behind stablemate Skyring in the Grade 2 Dixie on Preakness Day at Pimlico.
Real Solution runs off a close-up fourth-place finish in the Fort Marcy in what will be his second start for trainer Chad Brown. The Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey homebred son of Kitten’s Joy won three of five starts in Italy before moving to the United States.
Finnegans Wake, Speaking of Which and Quick Casablanca complete the field for the Woodford Reserve Manhattan.
The field for the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap: