02/07/2013 2:30PM

Jay Hovdey: O'Neill, McGaughey not ready to book trip to Dubai just yet

Barbara D. Livingston
A good performance experimenting on turf in Saturday's San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita could tempt trainer Doug O'Neill to give Richard's Kid another shot at one of the rich races on the Dubai World Cup card.

The San Marcos Stakes – formerly the San Marcos Handicap – has been run since 1952. In that first running, at a mile on the main track, the 1950 Horse of the Year, Hill Prince, made his first start as a 5-year-old and won under a pull, setting himself up as the favorite for the Santa Anita Handicap three weeks later.

Unfortunately, Hill Prince was beginning to show the wear and tear of his 29-race career. He finished fifth in the Handicap, under 129 pounds, and was retired to stud before he had a chance to cool out.

So began the history of a race that soon after found a home at 1 1/4 miles on the grass and has been there ever since, with the exception of a dozen runnings when the Santa Anita turf course was unplayable. Fans of a certain age will recall a six-year span, 1978-83, during which a main track San Marcos became a showcase for a versatile collection of stars that included John Henry, Vigors, Tiller, Galaxy Libra, and Super Moment.

As for its winners on the grass, they have included Round Table, Mr. Consistency, Cougar II, Great Communicator, Star of Cozzene, Bien Bien, Johar, and The Tin Man, so apparently the race has been worth the effort. The 14 entrants for Saturday’s version of the $150,000 San Marcos have yet to attain such heights of name recognition, with the exception of Richard’s Kid, a two-time winner of the Pacific Classic on Del Mar’s Polytrack.

Richard’s Kid has run 39 times and earned $2.3 million for a bus load of different owners, among them Robert Meyerhoff, Arnold Zetcher, and Sheikh Mohammed’s son Rashid. Since last summer, Richard’s Kid has belonged to a partnership that includes Paul Sr., Paul Jr., and Christopher Boghossian’s Triple B Farms as well as Mark Verge, Dave Kenny, Steve Keh, and Danny Kramer.

At the age of 8, it would seem to be a little late to make a fundamental change in career paths. In those 39 races, Richard’s Kid has run exactly once on grass. That was in July 2009, in his first start for Zetcher and trainer Bob Baffert, and the result was fairly conclusive when Richard’s Kid beat one horse in the Eddie Read at Del Mar. Baffert did not need to see another one. Two races later, Richard’s Kid won the Pacific Classic at 24-1.

“It’s on grass? Sonofagun,” said trainer Doug O’Neill, doing his best deadpan. “Well, maybe the Santa Anita turf will feel like the Del Mar main track. If that happens, he should be okay.”

O’Neill deployed the old “confidence builder” trope for the switch to grass, as if Richard’s Kid spends all his time moping around the barn, neglecting his Facebook page and avoiding Twitter, depressed at the fact that in his last three starts he was beaten 7 3/4, 8, and 15 1/2 lengths. In fact, O’Neill maintains Richard’s Kid is doing great, which means it’s the trainer and his owners who probably need cheering up.

“It’s pretty clear he needs a mile and a quarter at least to be effective,” O’Neill noted. “So we’re getting that. And if he likes the grass there are tons of opportunities.”

In years past Richard’s Kid has tried the Dubai trip without success, finishing seventh in the 2010 World Cup, 12th in the 2011 World Cup, and fourth in the 2012 Godolphin Mile. If he could talk, he would stay home this winter. But if he freaks and wins the San Marcos, the Middle East could call once again.

“If they were to invite us, of course,” O’Neill said. “They’ve got the synthetic course, and the mile and a half on the grass. But we’re not really looking past Saturday at this point.”

Neither is Shug McGaughey, who on Saturday will be unwrapping Point of Entry as a 5-year-old in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap at 1 1/8 miles. Last year’s winner of the Man o’ War, the Sword Dancer, and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic most recently finished half a length behind Little Mike in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita, on Nov. 3.

“We schooled him in the paddock here yesterday and I was kind of amazed at what I saw,” said McGaughey on Thursday from Gulfstream. “He’s filled in through his back end a whole lot. I was very pleased.”

McGaughey, a man not easy to please, was pleasantly surprised at every turn in 2012 by Point of Entry, who began the season as a growthy Dynaformer colt still eligible for a second-level allowance. The fact that he nearly won some kind of championship was in its own way satisfying. Still, if he was going to come that close he might as well have won it all, right?

“I’ve lost a lot of tough ones like that,” McGaughey said, forced as he was to recall the Breeders’ Cup. “You put them behind you, but you never really forget them.”

Point of Entry got the rest of November off and has been on a steady training pattern since going back to work. McGaughey said there is no reason his horse won’t run big on Saturday, and if he does he will be doing it while giving weight to both Animal Kingdom, runner-up to Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, and Unbridled Command, impressive winner of the Hollywood Derby.

The people in Animal Kingdom’s corner have made no bones about the Gulfstream race as a stepping-stone to the $10 million Dubai World Cup. The colt would have been there last year had injury not interrupted his campaign. But even McGaughey has let dangle the idea that Point of Entry might be considered for one of the races on the gazillion-dollar World Cup program.

“That’s just something that’s penciled in,” McGaughey said. “I’d just like to get through this race and see how he does, see how he comes back, then put our heads together with the principals and figure out what we thought was best to do. His races will be pretty well spaced this year, and his main goal is the Breeders’ Cup Turf.”

McGaughey’s reticence makes sense, especially in light of a career that has been so thoroughly New York-centric. McGaughey rarely crosses the Hudson if he doesn’t have to.

“That’s true,” he said. “Dubai’s a long way to go.”