Point of Entry ran like a short-priced favorite and one of the top horses in America Saturday with a 11⁄2-length victory in the Grade I Manhattan Handicap over a yielding course at Belmont Park.
Sent off at odds of 1-2, the 5-year-old Dynaformer horse ridden by John Velazquez rallied in the stretch run to beat Optimizer, who was carrying six fewer pounds. Real Solution, trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown, closed to finish third, a neck behind Optimizer.
Point of Entry, trained by Shug McGaughey, is 2-for-2 this year and has won seven of his last eight starts since April 2012. His only loss during that stretch was a second to Little Mike in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
In the Manhattan, Velazquez settled him in fifth through six furlongs in 1:12.94.
“He got him into a good spot; Johnny said that’s where he wanted him to be,” McGaughey said. “For a horse who’s only run one time since last November, carrying 124 pounds, I think it was probably starting to tell on him a little bit the last eighth, the last sixteenth of a mile.
“As I told Johnny today, ‘It’s
going to be a grind for this horse today.’ Soft turf, 124 pounds, hadn’t run but one time last November, we missed a race. I’m very, very proud of what I saw today. I saw [Real Solution] coming, and I knew we were probably getting a little bit leg-weary, but I knew he’d go on and finish; it was just a matter of whether he’d finish fast enough. He’s a very, very good horse.”
McGaughey scratched Point of Entry from the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby day at Churchill Downs, but opted to run him in the Manhattan despite the soft turf.
“We all know that this type of course is not his favorite, but every time you ask him to run, he gives you everything he has,” Velazquez said. “It’s really nice to be able to ride these kind of horses. Sometimes, it looks like he’s not going anywhere, but he’s running hard. He’s so big, it takes him a long time to get going, but he still runs his heart out.”
Fast Bullet turned out to the better half of the Zayat Stables entry and finished 21⁄2 lengths ahead of stablemate Justin Phillip in the Grade II True North, giving trainer Bob Baffert back-to-back wins.
His colt Power Broker won the $150,000 Easy Goer the race before.
Jockey Joel Rosario took the lightly raced Speightstown horse to the lead and they cruised through splits of :22.48, :45.16 and :56.56.
When Rosario asked him for more in the stretch, Fast Bullet opened up and cruised to the decisive win in 1:08.27 and paid $3.60.
“Bob sent him in and said he was ready to roll,” said trainer Tonja Terranova. She and husband John look after Baffert’s horses when he ships them to New York.
JUST A GAME
Yielding turf was just fine for Stephanie’s Kitten, who took the Grace I Just A Game by a half-length over Better Lucky under Velazquez.
Stephanie’s Kitten has won seven of 12 career starts on turf and artificial surfaces, but can handle different conditions. She took the 2012 Lake Placid over a firm course at Saratoga, and captured the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on May 4 over a course rated “good.”
The Widener Turf Course absorbed a few inches of rain late in the week and had plenty of give in it.
After sitting off the early pace of :24.50, :48.13 and 1:12.55, Velazquez elected to stay on the inside, and that decision to save ground paid off when Better Lucky put in a serious challenge from the outside in the stretch.
NYRA officials kept a temporary rail up for the first weeks of the Belmont meet to protect the inner part of the turf course. That rail was taken out for the Belmont Stakes program.
“So, the two-path was the path to be in,” trainer Wayne Catalano said. “We were in the No. 2 hole, and when the hole opened up, and Johnny stuck her head in there, I was happy with it, I really was. When it’s a horse race like that — it looked like it was going to be a bob of a head — I was worried about that. When she sprinted away, I was happy.”
Derby Trial winner Forty Tales came from off the pace to win the Grade II Woody Stephens by threes-quarters of a lengths over Declan’s Warrior.
Let Em Shine and Zee Bros took the field of 11 through early fractions of :21.99 and :44.73. They couldn’t sustain that speed, though, and Declan’s Warrior and Forty Tales came rolling to get the top two places. Forty Tales finished the seven furlongs on 1:22.47 and paid $19.80.