01/08/2013 6:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: Point of Entry

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photo by: Tom Keyser

When he stepped onto the Gulfstream Park grass course in February to make his first start of 2012, Point of Entry had never even run in a turf stakes race, and when he stepped off after finishing fourth in a second-level allowance race, there was no obvious reason to believe Point of Entry was on a fast track to such competition.

But Point of Entry still had three cards to play. First, he had yet to run in a turf race longer than 1 3/8 miles. Second, he had a classic pedigree for a horse owned and bred by Phipps Stable. Point of Entry is by Dynaformer, and his third dam produced champion Sky Beauty, his second dam the Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Pleasant Home, and among his brothers and sisters was the multiple Grade 1 winner Pine Island. And finally, Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey was his trainer.

Aces – all of them.

Stretched out to 1 1/2 miles, Point of Entry thrived, his blue-blooded pedigree translating into high-class performance. And under McGaughey’s watchful eye, Point of Entry got better and better as the season went along. He won the Grade 3 Elkhorn at Keeneland in April in his graded-turf-stakes debut. McGaughey jumped Point of Entry into New York Grade 1 company, and the horse responded with a 3 1/2-length win around wide Belmont bends in the Man o’ War and a four-length victory over the tight-turning Saratoga course in the Sword Dancer. The grass came up mucky for the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in September, and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Treasure Beach was in from Ireland, but Point of Entry beat him by 1 3/4 lengths.

And then, an eighth of a mile into the Breeders’ Cup Turf, Point of Entry’s luck ran out. Breaking from the rail and trapped along the inside, jockey John Velazquez could only yank the reins when two horses squeezed Point of Entry going into the first of three turns. The incident cost Point of Entry a couple lengths and valuable position and led to further traffic problems during the middle portion of the race. Finally clear in the stretch, and still down along the fence, Point of Entry had a chance to launch a rally. He took it, his stride clipping along faster and faster through the final furlong, but the wire came before Point of Entry could overtake Little Mike. He had beaten defending Turf champ St Nicholas Abbey while quieting skeptics pointing at the modest competition Point of Entry had beaten during his stakes winning streak.

The defeat ended McGaughey’s hope that Point of Entry could wriggle into the Horse of the Year discussion. Still, his summer campaign with the Grade 1 triple in New York established Point of Entry as one of the best American turf-distance horses in years, at least the equal of two-time champion Gio Ponti. And unlike in many recent seasons, when legitimate North American candidates for champion male turf horse ranged from sparse to nonexistent, Point of Entry is one of three horses whose season clearly merited the honor.