What a difference a year makes.
At this time in 2012, Wise Dan had just accomplished a record-setting romp in the Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, but had yet to register the four additional graded stakes wins—three of them grade I events, including the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT)—that would bring him Horse of the Year and two other Eclipse Awards.
Back then, Point of Entry —foremost of eight who will face Wise Dan in the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day—was fresh off his first graded stakes win in the Elkhorn (gr. IIT), also at Keeneland. It was a victory that would propel him to three grade I wins in a row and a second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
"At this time last year, we really didn't know what we had," McGaughey said May 1, when post positions were drawn for the 1 1/8-mile turf event. "This time, we know what we've got. At this time, we'd won the Elkhorn last year and a 'two-other-than' going a mile and a half at Keeneland. We felt like we had a really, really good horse, but when we ran in the Man o'War (gr. IT), when we went from the Elkhorn to a grade I, we didn't know exactly what we had."
Wise Dan, seeking his fifth consecutive grade I victory and sixth straight win, is set to take on Point of Entry in the Woodford, the race preceding the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) that could anchor a card on its own any other day. It is set as the 10th race with an approximate post time of 4:44 p.m. EDT, to be followed by the Derby at 6:24 p.m.
McGaughey, who has 7-2 favorite Orb as one of the starters in the Derby, said Point of Entry has been training well since defeating 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in the Feb. 9 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT) in his 2013 debut. Animal Kingdom went on to win the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) March 30, further flattering his conqueror.
Typically known for winning longer races, Point of Entry handily started his season with a 1 1/4-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile event.
"That opened a lot of options for us," McGaughey said. "I think he has come around the way I wanted him to since we've had him (in Kentucky). He had a great time (training) at Keeneland, and his work here the other day was fine. I'm looking forward to running him."
Point of Entry, a 5-year-old homebred son of Dynaformer who competes for Phipps Stable, worked four furlongs on the Churchill turf course in :50 2/5 April 30. He will be ridden in the Woodford by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who returned to riding May 1 at Belmont Park after injuring his wrist and ribs in an April 7 spill at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Point of Entry drew the outside post and a weight assignment of 124, co-highweighted with Wise Dan.
Wise Dan was also a winner in his 2013 debut for trainer Charlie LoPresti and owner-breeder Morton Fink, taking Keeneland's April 12 Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT) under Jose Lezcano. Lezcano, who also subbed for Velazquez last season when Wise Dan won the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) before taking the Breeders' Cup Mile in record fashion, will be in the irons in the Woodford from post 8.
The two turf stars do not appear to have frightened off competition, as seven others will contest the Woodford. Top among them is B.J. Wright's grade I winner Jeranimo , who races for the first time since taking the Jan. 13 San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT) by 2 3/4 lengths at the Woodford distance for trainer Michael Pender at Santa Anita Park.
Also in from California is Phil Cunningham's multiple grade II winner Slim Shadey, who looks to rebound from a fifth-place finish in the March 16 San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT) after trainer Simon Callaghan sent him to a win in the Feb. 9 San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT). Other multiple graded-stakes winners in the field are Middie, Optimizer, Silver Max (who appears to be the lone speed in the race for trainer Dale Romans), and Swift Warrior, along with stakes winner Bim Bam.
"They told me they thought maybe they'd be lucky to get seven," trainer LoPresti said of the Churchill racing office. "It was three when I entered, and I was a little surprised when they got nine, but everybody wants to run for a lot of money."
LoPresti reported that Wise Dan, a 6-year-old son of Wiseman's Ferry, is "as good as I've ever had him" right now. This will be his first attempt at 1 1/8 miles on the turf; he has won going the distance on Polytrack and dirt.
"When he ran a mile and an eighth in the Ben Ali I had a question as to whether he would get it (the distance) on the synthetic, and he did," LoPresti said. "When he ran a mile and an eighth in the Clark, I wondered if he could get it on the dirt, and he did.
"I won't know the answer to the mile and an eighth question on the grass until he runs on it, but I know he has done the distance without a problem both times on dirt and synthetic."
Point of Entry is already on the Churchill grounds, while Wise Dan is scheduled to ship in the morning of the race.
"He'll leave Keeneland at about 5 a.m. on Saturday morning," LoPresti said. "He has shipped in, ran before, and won. On Derby day (in 2010) he won an 'a other than' shipping in the morning of the race."