The planned point of attack was still a full furlong away, so it was no trouble for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to duck inside for a few more seconds.
Sitting fourth entering the far turn in Saturday’s Grade I $600,000 Sword Dancer over 11⁄2 miles over at Saratoga Race Course, he was aboard favored Point of Entry when Newsdad, running third at the time, took a misstep on the turf.
Point of Entry came in at the half-mile pole before swinging four-wide at the quarter pole to make his run, pulling away to win by four lengths.
“By the half-mile pole, I pointed him outside, and the horse who was laying third took a bad step, so I had to go back inside with him,” Velazquez said. “But I didn’t want to make a move before the quarter pole anyway, so it worked out. He was ready to go anytime I let him go. Incredible.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said jockey Joel Rosario told him his charge just stepped on a soft spot on the inner turf course, which had been unused throughout the card until the Sword Dancer.
“[Rosario] said [Newsdad] slipped a little bit on the final turn,” Mott said. “He was running a little better, he was close, and the ground broke out from underneath him and he lost a little momentum. He never really regained his action.”
Turbo Compressor took off for the early lead and held it through the first 10 furlongs, covering the first three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.77. It was a bit of a faster pace than his winning bid in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth in his last start.
In the United Nations and the Colonial Turf Cup before that, Turbo Compressor had beaten Air Support, a 4-year-old trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. McGaughey also trains Point of Entry, so he knew what to expect from the pace-setter.
“I’ve been second to him his last two races,” McGaughey said. “I knew he’d be where he was. I was hoping Center Divider and Newsdad would push him on a little more than they did. But he was going, down in Monmouth he went 15 and today he went 13, so I kind of liked that.”
Turbo Compressor couldn’t keep the pace, and first Newsdad got outside him to challenge for the lead. Velazquez, meanwhile, had guided Point of Entry sharply to the outside where he found room for his stretch run.
“I told him, ‘If the pace is fast, know where you’ll be. And if it’s slow, he can be right there,’” McGaughey said. “He said, ‘I’m just going to let him take me where he wants to go.’ ”
Center Divider, trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown, had run second throughout the race until the quarter pole, when he faded and finished seventh. Turbo Compressor finished last of the nine entries.
As Point of Entry flew down the stretch, Al Khali followed in his wake for second, followed by Brilliant Speed and Newsdad.
“I had a really good trip, stayed on the rail pretty much the whole time,” said Al Khali jockey Junior Alvarado. “Turning for home, I had a shot to follow [Point of Entry] and could have gone through, but second best. I had a clear trip, and he really ran pretty good, because he really tried hard at the end.”
Point of Entry has won his last four races and five of six. This is his second straight Grade I win, having captured the Man o’ War at Belmont on July 14 under Jose Lezcano while regular rider Velazquez recovered from a broken collarbone.
It was his first win at Saratoga, though not his first race here. Last year, Point of Entry ran fourth in the $75,000 Curlin on the dirt, 121⁄4 lengths behind Turbo Compressor, as McGaughey conducted a brief experiment with the son of Dynaformer.
“You never know if he’s got this much [potential], but I thought he was a grass horse and I was taking a shot in the Curlin,” McGaughey said. “I knew he’d run that far, and if he ran good, it might have given us a Travers horse. But he just ran OK, so then we went to the turf.”
He may not have been a Travers horse, but the Phipps Stable’s homebred has proven no less special a student for McGaughey.
The last two winners of the Sword Dancer — Telling in 2010 and Winchester last year — have gone on to run in the 11⁄2-mile Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont, both finishing fifth. Like the Sword Dancer, the race has increased its purse this year from $500,000 to $600,000. It will be run Sept. 29.
That’s a possible next spot for Point of Entry, but wherever he goes next, McGaughey has got to like his chances.
“Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” he said. “Like I’ve said all along, I think his future is in front of him. I think he gets better and better.”