Photo: Eclipse Spotswire
A storm was brewing on the first Saturday of May, and it was not the type of storm that brings high winds, rain, thunder, and lightning. No, the storm brewing that day was a showdown between top turf router, Point of Entry and reigning Horse of the Year and turf mile specialist, Wise Dan in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. Alas, when it was all said and done, Shug McGaughey had scratched his turf star since an actual storm had moved in and left the Churchill Downs turf course a boggy mess. Fans were extremely disappointed that the much anticipated showdown had not taken place, but as Belmont Day approaches, fans can look forward to another juicy match-up, this time between Point of Entry and record setting Twilight Eclipse in the Manhattan Handicap.
If you’re not familiar with Twilight Eclipse, don’t feel bad. The 4-year old gelded son of Purim is a relative newcomer at the top levels of the turf scene. After winning his first two races at a mile and 8.5 furlongs respectively, Twilight Eclipse reeled off three consecutive losing efforts before once again finding the winner’s circle when stretching out to the classic distance of a mile and a half in the G2 W. L. McKnight Handicap at Calder. After wheeling back to 11 furlongs next out and running fourth, trainer Thomas Albertrani once again stretched his charge out to 12 furlongs in the G2 Pan American, and Twilight Eclipse justified that decision with a 4 length romp in world record time.
Point of Entry has been assigned the high weight of 124 lbs and for good reason! In 16 career starts, the 5-year old son of Dynaformer has racked up 8 wins ranging in distance from 9 to 12 furlongs. Last year, Point of Entry dominated the division in races run at 11-12 furlongs by rattling off 5 consecutive wins and fell just half a length short of making it six in a row when he lost the Breeders’ Cup Turf as the post time favorite. In another sensational match-up earlier this year, Point of Entry proved that he was not just a 12 furlong specialist when he wheeled back to a mile and an eighth and decisively beat favored Animal Kingdom.
What could possibly put a damper on such a marvelous match-up? Two things: distance and weather. With rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday in Elmont, New York, it is more than likely that the turf will come up yielding. Though Point of Entry has a win over this type of surface, it is not his favorite, which was why Shug scratched him from the Woodford Reserve. Twilight Eclipse, on the other hand, has not even placed on the board on a soft track, and neither Dynaformer descendant has a win at the Manhattan distance of 10 furlongs. Point of Entry has proved that he can cut back successfully, however, but that has not thus far been the case for Twilight Eclipse. Real Solution, Bombaguia, and Finnegan’s Wake are likely to take to the distance, too, since the first has a win at 10.5 furlongs and the latter two are not facing the opponents that have previously beaten them in prior tries at 10 furlongs.
If it does in fact rain and the Belmont turf comes up as anything but firm, Real Solution and Speaking of Which will both be in their element. The two 4-year old colts have combined to have a record of 5 wins, 2 places, and a show in 9 starts over a wet turf course. Real Solution, a son of Kitten’s Joy and owned by none other than the Ramseys, will be making just his second U.S. start, and Speaking of Which will be making his fourth U.S. start. Both colts began their careers overseas and neither have lucked out in terms of surface since moving to the U.S. though that looks to change come Saturday. Optimizer and Plainview also look to benefit from soft going.
Should Shug decide to go ahead and run Point of Entry over a yielding course, I can guarantee that the conspiracy theorists who claimed the trainer ducked Wise Dan five weeks ago will be out in full force. To that I will say but one thing. Shug does not duck competition, but Wise Dan had a clear advantage over a soft track; if anything, safety aside, Shug probably wanted to meet Wise Dan on even terms, not when either had a clear advantage. Some may call it ducking, I call it a desire to meet on even terms. Why else would Point of Entry face Animal Kingdom yet avoid Wise Dan? One thing is for sure, though. Rain or shine and with or without Point of Entry, the Manhattan Handicap will be a good one!