ARCADIA, Cali — To put it in mild terms, the reputation American-based horses have established with regards to their annual chances in the Breeders' Cup Turf can easily be classified as lackluster.
Not since Kitten's Joy in 2004 has an American grass contender gone off as the favorite in 11/2-mile race. In the last 12 editions of the $3 million test, only Johar (2003), Better Talk Now (2004) and English Channel (2007) have managed to score home-team triumphs.
By gaining morning-line favoritism for Saturday's running of the Turf, Phipps Stable's homebred Point of Entry has already managed to shed part of that stigma. If the 4-year-old colt duplicates his own form and not the history of his past brethren, he can at least heal a small part of North America's bruised credibility against international turf contenders.
Even if Point of Entry fails to keep the Breeders' Cup Turf bragging rights on this side of the ocean this year, the dark bay son of Dynaformer undoubtedly stands as one of the strongest U.S. contenders in the last decade.
His current five-race win streak from six starts this year features Grade I victories in the Man o' War Stakes, Sword Dancer and Turf Classic Invitational — making him the only North American-based horse other than dual classic winner I'll Have Another to have three Grade I wins to his credit in 2012.
Judging him solely off his form, there are myriad factors that suggest the Turf is Point Entry's to lose, even with defending race winner St Nicholas Abbey in the field. Point of Entry is 4-for-4 over the Turf's 11/2-mile distance this year and has particularly relished the firm ground expected for the two-day Breeders' Cup World Championship event.
"The feedback I've gotten is people have been pretty impressed with what he's done and they think maybe the Americans have a chance this time to win the turf race, which we haven't been able to do much of lately," said trainer Shug McGaughey. "We're bringing a different type of horse and maybe a better horse here, probably a better horse than we've seen in a while."
A winner of just two of eight starts last year, Point of Entry — like many past Phipps runners — has benefitted from McGaughey's patient mind as well as his deep-rooted familiarity with the colt's talented bloodlines.
When Point of Entry won an allowance race and the Grade II Elkhorn Stakes within two weeks of each other at Keeneland this April, it allowed McGaughey the luxury of spacing out the colt's big spots leading up to the Breeders' Cup.
Since winning the Grade I Man o' War at Belmont Park in July, Point of Entry has had about a month between each of his starts, enough to keep his form sharp without draining him too much physically before his big day.
"I think being able to run in that (allowance race) and then run back in the Elkhorn gave us the confidence to give him the time from the Elkhorn to the Man o' War," McGaughey said. "I could give him the time there and I knew where the big races were spaced, so I think that that allowance race was the key to the whole thing really."
As much as Point of Entry is shouldering the banner as the top American hope in the Turf, a Breeders' Cup triumph would also carry extra poignancy for his connections.
Out of the Seeking the Gold mare Matlacha Pass, who herself was trained by McGaughey, Point of Entry is a half-brother to the late multiple Grade I-winning filly Pine Island. Sent off as the second choice against older fillies in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Distaff, Pine Island suffered a fatal breakdown on the backstretch and was euthanized.
"He goes a little bit like (Pine Island), he goes with his head down some," said McGaughey, who also conditioned Pine Island. "She was a bit more of a grinder than he is. He's the kind who sort of gets it over with in a hurry when it's time, where you'd come to the quarter pole with her and think is she going to get there or is she not going to get there.
"We had the mother and I trained her father (Seeking the Gold) and ... all that kind of worked into me knowing (Point of Entry) and giving him a chance to develop into what he's developed into."
Having already notched victories over fellow Turf entrants Kindergarden Kid, Treasure Beach and Turbo Compressor, Point of Entry has developed into the leading turf horse over a route of ground in this country. Whether or not it's enough to stop the streak of European dominance, the fact he is viewed as the main target is enough of a tribute already.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Twitter: @horseracinghl. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.