by NYRA Press Office
Todd Pletcher will saddle a pair of formidable contenders in Pillar Mountain and Noble Indy in Sunday's $100,000 Point of Entry, a 1 1/2-mile Widener turf marathon for 3-year-olds and upward at Belmont Park.
Team Valor International's Pillar Mountain, a 4-year-old son of Kodiac bred in Ireland by Bernard Cooke, will seek his first stakes win in Sunday's 12-furlong stamina test. The late-running Pillar Mountain was a debut winner at Dundalk in December 2017 for original trainer Paddy Twomey.
He picked up his first North American win in June at Belmont when a nose the best in an 11-furlong optional-claiming turf trip over He's No Lemon, who recently captured the Bald Eagle Derby at Laurel. Pillar Mountain kept a sweet streak alive next out when besting Lemonist at the same distance by 2 1/2-lengths on July 19 at Saratoga Race Course.
Following successive strong efforts, Pletcher said plans went sour when entering Pillar Mountain in stakes company and was forced into the Grade 1 Sword Dancer as a backup plan where the colt ran sixth ahead of an off-the-board effort in the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup on September 7 at Kentucky Downs.
"Originally, we were in the John's Call and then it got rained off so we came back in the Sword Dancer," said Pletcher. "He didn't run badly in there and then we wheeled him back too soon at Kentucky Downs."
Pillar Mountain has breezed twice at Belmont following his Kentucky Downs effort and Pletcher said the improving bay is primed for a peak performance.
"He's in good form now and he's a horse that still has some room to step up," said Pletcher.
Repole Stable's Noble Indy will cross enter in Monday's Grade 2, $200,000 Knickerbocker at 1 1/8-miles on the turf.
The 4-year-old son of Take Charge Indy made waves on the Kentucky Derby trail last year, winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby ahead of off-the-board efforts in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
Noble Indy made the first three starts of his 4-year-old campaign on the dirt before being shifted to turf on June 7 at Belmont when a good third in an optional-claiming mile. The talented gelding followed up with a second behind well-regarded Lucullan in an optional-claiming turf event on July 3 at Belmont ahead of a strong fourth in the Lure at Saratoga, also captured by Lucullan.
Last out, when stretched out to nine furlongs on the Belmont turf on September 20, Noble Indy led gate-to-wire in an optional-claiming event to notch his first turf win.
Pletcher said he was surprised to see how well Noble Indy took to turf given his dirt pedigree.
"He was training the same that he always had, but he just wasn't finishing his races [on dirt]," said Pletcher. "It seems that on the turf, for whatever reason, he's more game and shows a little more desire. It wouldn't be obvious looking at his pedigree that he's better on the turf, but at least his performances have been.
"Ultimately, we do want to stretch him out beyond a mile and a quarter," added Pletcher. "I like the way he's run on the turf and he seems to be able to carry his speed. We're just trying to figure out the right time to do it."
Pletcher said he will evaluate both fields before deciding on where Noble Indy will run.
"If he turns out to be one of the favorites [in the Knickerbocker], we'll probably opt for that since its double the purse. We'll see how it draws out," said Pletcher.
Joel Rosario will guide Pillar Mountain from post 5, while Noble Indy will emerge from post 4 under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Darby Dan Farm Racing's regally-bred Manitoulin, by Awesome Again out of multiple Grade 1-winner Soaring Softly, boasts a record of 6-3-1 from 24 starts with purse earnings of $520,393.
Initially campaigned by James Toner, Manitoulin was transferred to Michael Matz for his 2019 campaign and arrives at the Point of Entry from a half-length score in a nine-furlong turf handicap on September 5 at Colonial Downs.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the call from post 7.
Trinity Farm's New York-bred Red Knight boasts a record of 3-1-1 from eight starts on the Belmont turf, but enters Sunday's test in search of his first win of 2019. The chestnut son of Pure Prize, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, completed the exacta in Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland to launch his campaign and finished a distant second to Highland Sky in the off-the-turf Johns Call in an even campaign.
Red Knight, who looks for his first win since capturing the H. Allen Jerkens on December 29 at Gulfstream Park, will leave from post 3 under Junior Alvarado.
Rounding out the field are Arrocha [post 1, Jose Lezcano]. Paret [post 6, Edgar Prado], and main-track only entrant Carlino [post 2, Manny Franco].
The Point of Entry is slated as Race 7 on Sunday's 9-race card. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.