09/27/2012 2:02PM

Belmont: Point of Entry, Little Mike facing off in Joe Hirsch

Barbara D. Livingston
Point of Entry is 3 for 3 in his career at 12 furlongs.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Point of Entry and Little Mike won arguably the two biggest turf stakes of the summer. On Saturday, they will face off at Belmont Park and will try to win one of the bigger turf races of the fall, the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.

On Aug. 18, Point of Entry won the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, and a little later that afternoon, Little Mike won the Arlington Million. Those races were the second Grade 1 victories this year for both. Point of Entry won the Man o’ War before the Sword Dancer over the same Widener turf course he will compete on Saturday, while Little Mike won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard two starts before the Arlington Million. On paper, these two lay over Joe Hirsch field. And on the track, these two might have the 12-furlong Hirsch all to themselves from the outset. It’s entirely possible Little Mike and Point of Entry will be running one-two right out of the gate.

Barring a disastrous start, Little Mike will go to the lead, because he always does and because there is not one other true front-runner in this six-horse field. And that means Little Mike might work out a trip much like the one he had at Arlington. Under Ramon Dominguez, who rides him back on Saturday, Little Mike lulled the Arlington Million field to sleep with fractions of 49.95 seconds, 1:15.03, and 1:39.54. After opening up a lead of nearly five lengths in midstretch, Little Mike – a 5-year-old gelding by Spanish Steps trained by Dale Romans – had plenty left to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths.

Point of Entry, meanwhile, showed in his last two starts that he is more than just a deep closer reliant on honest fractions to set up his late run. Point of Entry prompted an extraordinarily slow pace in the Man o’ War, and he was prominently placed early again in the Sword Dancer before blowing that race apart in the final furlong en route to a four-length score. In light of this newfound versatility, look for jockey John Velazquez to have this Shug McGaughey-trained 4-year-old colt by Dynaformer in fairly close early contact with Little Mike.

Little Mike does hold a pace advantage in the Hirsch, and given a showery forecast, the footing could be to his liking, too. There was cut in the ground in both his Arlington Million and Woodford Reserve victories. In fairness, though, Point of Entry is a far better horse now than he was when he ran third a year ago in his only attempt on turf listed other than firm.

But the potential separating factor between these two, and the reason why this corner believes Point of Entry will win, is the distance. Point of Entry is 3 for 3 in his career at 12 furlongs. For the record, he’s also 2 for 2 going 11 furlongs. Little Mike, on the other hand, was going as far as 10 furlongs for the first time in his life in the Arlington Million.

“You’re always concerned about something you haven’t done before,” Romans said. “But he got the mile and a quarter easy enough and, hopefully, he can go ahead and get the mile and a half. It will be the right kind of pace.”

Treasure Beach ships over from Ireland yet again for trainer Aidan O’Brien and is not completely without a chance. Treasure Beach, who won the Grade 1 Secretariat last year, finished fifth behind Point of Entry as the 4-5 favorite in the Man o’ War, and sixth behind Little Mike in the Arlington Million. Treasure Beach was severely compromised by slow paces both times, but he can be much more competitive if he can somehow find a way around that problem Saturday.

Completing the field are Finnegans Wake, second in this year’s Secretariat most recently, but who faces a much tougher set of older horses for the first time; Kindergarden Kid, a close third in the Kentucky Turf Cup last time in his first start off the Mike Maker claim; and Hailstone, a distant sixth in the Sword Dancer at 60-1.

The Joe Hirsch is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series Win and You’re In, with the winner receiving a fees-paid berth in the BC Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 3 and a $10,0000 travel allowance. Little Mike is already assured a place in the BC Turf, as the Arlington Million was a Win and You’re In.