06/06/2013 11:59AM

Manhattan Handicap: Soft turf, long layoff are questions for Point of Entry


ELMONT, N.Y. – Looming a universal single in the $1 million-guaranteed pick six and pick four, Point of Entry makes his first start since beating Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom four months ago and will be no better than 3-5 to garner his fifth Grade 1 title in Saturday’s $500,000 Manhattan Handicap.

The Manhattan is the 10th of 13 races, with post time set for 5:40 p.m. Eastern.

After scratching out of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic late afternoon of Kentucky Derby Day due to unsuitably soft course conditions, Point of Entry will run in Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile Manhattan come rain or shine, according to trainer Shug McGaughey.

With a forecast that called for a 90 percent chance of rain Friday and lingering showers into early Saturday, Mother Nature apparently has it in for Point of Entry, who shoulders top weight of 124 pounds and gives away 5 to 11 pounds to his nine opponents.

“It was a mile and an eighth on soft turf there, so I have no problems about what I did,” McGaughey said. “A mile and a quarter at Belmont isn’t like a mile and an eighth at Churchill. If we had run at Churchill, we wouldn’t have run Saturday. We would have run in the Man o’ War, then the Arlington Million, [Joe Hirsch] Turf Classic, and the Breeders’ Cup. The main objective is the Breeders’ Cup. When we didn’t run at Churchill, we needed to run in the Manhattan because we needed to run.”

[BELMONT STAKES: Live updates and video from Belmont Park]

When Point of Entry runs, he is among the best and most versatile grass horses to come along in many a year. The question is simply whether he is ready to fire on all cylinders after having run just once since a tough-trip second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf seven months ago.

“I’ll tell you one thing, there isn’t a horse on the grounds training any better than him,” said McGaughey, who also has Reload in the True North and Orb in the Belmont Stakes. “He’s fresh. You can ask [exercise rider] Jenn [Patterson]. I was laughing at her [Wednesday] morning because she had all she could handle. He’s about as good as a horse can get.”

The only other graded stakes winners in the field are Twilight Eclipse, a dual Grade 2 winner at 1 1/2 miles; Optimizer, a three-time Grade 3 winner at distances up to 1 1/8 miles with an affinity for boggy going; Speaking of Which, a Group 3 winner in his native Ireland; and Quick Casablanca, a Group 1 winner on dirt in Argentina.

Twilight Eclipse, a mere $1,000 yearling buy, won Calder’s W.L. McKnight to conclude his 3-year-old season for Tom Albertrani. The 4-year-old Twilight Eclipse makes his first start since a decisive triumph in the Pan American on March 23, for which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, the only triple-digit figure in the race besides the four posted by Point of Entry.

“We’re excited to get him back on track,” Albertrani said. “We gave him a break between the Pan American and the Manhattan because we know he’s a horse that wants to run in these longer races. We wanted to freshen him up for a summer campaign.”

Likely pacesetter Plainview is in on a wing and a prayer after a career-best effort to wire preliminary allowance foes at 1 1/16 miles for Greg DiPrima.

Bombaguia, who led to the final strides of the Bowling Green on this same inner course last fall, will likely get first run at the longshot leader, after finishing an unlucky second in the Fort Marcy.

“He should have won by a mile,” trainer John Kimmel said. “He got stopped three times. He went inside. He went outside. It was hard to watch, and it was just off the track record. This is his third race on the form cycle. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do this year.”