07/15/2012 1:03PM

Point of Entry, and Other Saturday Impressions


The most impressive performance in Saturday’s 12 graded stakes was, for me, Point of Entry’s emphatic victory in the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont. Point of Entry was able to transfer his at-the-time career best Keeneland turf form from last spring to a different, less sand-based grass course (something I wanted to see him do), and he showed the sort of brilliant late turn of foot that is often a hallmark of a top turf performer. Even considering the extremely slow early pace of the Man o’ War, and the fact that the race was run over the baked ground that seems prevalent on turf courses at tracks all over the steamy eastern seaboard, his final three furlong split of around 33.76 seconds was really motoring. On Saturday, Point of Entry simply looked like a high class race horse.

That said, let’s not go overboard here. For one, Point of Entry had a super easy trip in the Man o’ War, prompting the longshot Center Divider’s absurdly slow pace of 26.10, 52.05, and 1:16.68. Set ups just don’t get better than that. Moreover, when Treasure Beach, Hudson Steele and Newsdad all came up empty after being reserved off that pace (begging the question in each case, why?), it left Point of Entry with precious little else to beat. All he had to do is handle Center Divider, who stayed on for second, and third-place finisher Tahoe Lake, who, between them, were 0 for 12 in stakes of any kind going into Saturday. But Point of Entry handled them with great style, and his emergence is welcome in a male turf division begging for some star power.

Point of Entry races for the Phipps Stable and trainer Shug McGaughey, connections that almost completed a graded stakes turf double Saturday when their Boisterous fell a jump or two short of Rahystrada in the Arlington Handicap at Arlington. Rahystrada is not the kind who will compete for divisional titles, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a very cool horse worthy of our admiration. Rahystrada was winning the Arlington ‘cap for the second time, having also won it in 2010. The 8-year-old has also won a Kentucky Cup Turf, a Colonial Turf Cup, and a River City Handicap along the way, and now boasts a career mark of 38 starts, 13 wins, 3 seconds and 7 thirds. Rahystrada clearly loves the game.

Who says Mike Smith won’t come up the inside? That’s just what he did to win the American Oaks at Betfair Hollywood with Lady of Shamrock. The American Oaks was the other Grade 1 race on Saturday’s schedule, but I have learned to be skeptical of turf races restricted to 3-year-olds such as this one. Far more often than not, the big players in these races are found wanting when they eventually venture outside their age group.

It appears that reports of Switch’s decline were unfounded. Or were they? Switch was uncharacteristically awful when a badly beaten fifth in the Humana Distaff in her first start this year, and only marginally better when fourth in the Desert Stormer last month. Switch seemed significantly better Saturday winning the A Gleam one race after the American Oaks, but whether she is all the way back to her past, outstanding self is very much open to debate. The A Gleam was a race that completely fell apart in the seventh and final furlong, and the sense is that the 13.84 the final furlong was run in, and not a sudden recapturing of form, was why Switch got up to score.

A win payoff of $2.80 is never a bargain, but Grace Hall made it look about as good as it can winning the Delaware Oaks by a 3 3-4 length margin that felt a whole lot bigger. The thing to know here is, Grace Hall was even better in victory than it looks on paper. I’m not sure why she had to move four wide after the leaders on the far turn, but she did, and it wound up giving her a much harder trip than she had to have.