The Joe Hirsch, race nine on an 11-race "Super Saturday" card at Belmont, has drawn a small field of six. Point of Entry is the 4-5 morning line favorite and Little Mike is the 2-1 second choice. The 1 1/2-mile event immediately precedes the $600,000 TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) with an approximate post of 5:12 p.m. EDT. It is a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Nov. 3 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park.
One of the premier grass horses in the country, Point of Entry has been carefully spotted by Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. His 2012 campaign has included a 3 1/2-length victory in the July 14 Man O' War (gr. IT) at Belmont and an explosive four-length score in the Aug. 18 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) at Saratoga Race Course.
Meanwhile, Priscilla Vaccarezza's 5-year-old Spanish Steps gelding Little Mike took both the Arlington Million and the May 5 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs in front-running fashion.
Despite having won back-to-back starts this spring, Point of Entry, a 4-year-old son of Dynaformer, was given a 10-week vacation following his victory in the April 27 Elkhorn (gr. IIT) at Keeneland.
"It was by design," McGaughey said of the layoff for the Phipps Stable homebred. "I knew when the Man o' War was, and I knew when the Sword Dancer was, and I knew when the Joe Hirsch was, and I figured if we get through that, I know when the Breeders' Cup is. He seems to be doing as well as ever; he had a good work Sunday, and I was really pleased, so we're just crossing our fingers and hoping everything's fine going up to the race."
On Sept. 23, Point of Entry went four furlongs on the inner turf course at Belmont in :50.02 breezing. McGaughey calls him "a pretty free-running kind of horse," and he has tracked pace-makers from close up in his past two starts. In the Joe Hirsch he will face one of the best in Little Mike, who tries the 1 1/2-mile distance for the first time.
Victorious in 11 of 19 starts, Little Mike built a reputation the past two years as a brilliant miler who could successfully stretch his speed an extra furlong under the right conditions. Trainer Dale Romans, however, had other ideas and pulled off an upset when Little Mike wired the Million at odds of 4-1, opening up an insurmountable 4 1/2-length lead at the top of the stretch and holding on to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
"You're always concerned about something you haven't done before," said Romans, whose runner figures to be the controling speed once again. "He got the mile and a quarter easy enough, and hopefully he can go ahead and get the mile-and-a-half. It will be the right kind of pace.
"Automatically, a horse with that kind of speed, the shorter the better, but it's a totally different pace scenario. If he gets three quarters of a mile in 1:15, then all he has to do is sprint home. Running a mile, he's liable to go 1:10."
Romans also will run the uncoupled 3-year-old Finnegans Wake, 10-1, second last out in the Secretariat (gr. IT) on the Arlington Million card, and third in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) for Donegal Racing.
Treasure Beachwill take his second straight shot at Little Mike, having finished sixth, 3 1/2 lengths back in the Arlington Million. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, the 4-year-old son of Galileo has been a world traveler for owners Mrs. Fitriani Hay, Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier, and Michael Tabor, having raced in France, Canada, Dubai, Hong Kong, Belmont, and Arlington since last October. In July, Treasure Beach finished fifth behind Point of Entry in the Man o' War.
Kindergarden Kid, third two weeks back in the Kentucky Turf Cup (gr. IIT) at Kentucky Downs for Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker, and Marc Keller's Hailstone, sixth in the Sword Dancer for trainer Bobby Ribaudo, complete the field.