05/02/2013 11:25AM

Churchill Downs: Woodford Reserve a fair fight for Wise Dan, Point of Entry


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As warm-up acts go, they don’t come any better than the race preceding the Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs – the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve, a race that drew reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan and Point of Entry, a four-time Grade 1 winner on turf.

The Woodford Reserve could not be run at a fairer distance for this duo. The 1 1/8 miles of the Woodford on the Matt Winn turf course is the farthest Wise Dan has ever raced, and the minimum distance Point of Entry runs effectively.

Their preparation also leaves them on a level playing field, with both Wise Dan and Point of Entry having won their first races of 2013.

“I don’t know how you separate them,” Wise Dan’s trainer, Charlie LoPresti, said.

Mike Battaglia, the morning linemaker for Churchill Downs, didn’t separate them by much, making Wise Dan the 6-5 favorite over Point of Entry at 7-5 odds.

They are even going to be just feet apart in the starting gate, with Wise Dan breaking from post 8, and Point of Entry alongside him in post 9. Both carry 124 pounds.

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Despite the presence of the leading pair, the connections of seven other horses entered their horses against them. None are shorter than 8-1 on Battaglia’s line, with likely pacesetter Silver Max listed at that price, as well as Jeranimo, winner of the Grade 2 San Gabriel at Santa Anita in his only race of 2013.

Other runners and their morning-line prices include Middle, 30-1; Slim Shadey, 12-1; Optimizer, 20-1; Swift Warrior, 20-1; and Bim Bam, 50-1.

Regarding the two favorites, each horse brings a little something different in the race. The speedier Wise Dan had the finer season in 2012, capped by a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Point of Entry, meanwhile, fell just short when he ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, finishing a half-length behind Little Mike after only shaking clear of traffic once into the stretch.

But Point of Entry had the flashier race this year, winning the Feb. 9 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths over 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, next-out winner of the Dubai World Cup.

“He ran great that day, you know,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “I think he will run every bit as good Saturday if everything goes right.”

Wise Dan was more workmanlike in his seasonal debut, defeating Data Link by a length in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland on Apr. 12.

LoPresti felt Wise Dan’s first race of 2012 was far superior – a 10 1/2-length romp in the Ben Ali going 1 1/8 miles on Keeneland’s Polytrack, but he noted he didn’t have Wise Dan as fit this year as for his first start of 2012.

Wise Dan’s stablemate and half-brother, Successful Dan, is largely responsible for this marquee matchup of Wise Dan vs. Point of Entry.

Wanting to keep their horses apart, LoPresti and owner Mort Fink decided to bring Wise Dan back on roughly three weeks’ rest for the Woodford Reserve, knowing Successful Dan would be a good fit for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill June 15, a race in which Wise Dan ran second last year.

Wise Dan had no trouble with a three-week turnaround last year, winning the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf mile Oct. 6 after winning the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile 20 days earlier Sept. 16.

Jose Lezcano rides Wise Dan, while John Velazquez has the mount on Point of Entry.

Neither horse would seem to be disadvantaged if inclement weather Saturday results in a wet turf. Both have won graded stakes on yielding ground.

The Woodford will be shown as part of NBC’s Kentucky Derby telecast, which begins at 4 p.m., Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers said. Post time is 4:44 p.m. Eastern.