In one of the more dramatic victories of his career, Wise Dan held off a late surge from Juddmonte Farms homebred Seek Again to post a narrow victory in the $559,100 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) May 3 at Churchill Downs (VIDEO).
In prevailing by a head in the Woodford Reserve, Morton Fink homebred Wise Dan secured the 10th grade I victory of his career in the 1 1/8-mile turf race. The odds-on favorite joins Einstein as two-time winners of the Woodford Reserve.
This victory did not come easy. Before the first turn, Wise Dan fought restraint between front-running Bright Thought to his inside and Skyring to his outside before jockey John Velazquez was able to back the two-time Horse of the Year out of that spot.
"When the other horse came to him on the outside, he got real aggressive and I had to really fight him back," Velazquez said. "I didn't want to do that because he threw his head up, but I had no choice."
Wise Dan then raced third through the first turn and on the backstretch as Bright Thought completed a half-mile in fractions of :24.17 and :48.05. Wise Dan advanced toward the front-runners entering the far turn, where he rallied three wide after six furlongs were completed in 1:12.28 to seize the lead turning for home. But behind him, last year's Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) winner Seek Again made progress in his first start of the season.
Seek Again found room on the inside and engaged Wise Dan in the lane. Those two dueled through the stretch with Wise Dan fully extended to prevail courageously.
Winning trainer Charlie LoPresti said he was worried about Seek Again, trained by Churchill's all-time leading trainer Bill Mott, but has confidence whenever Wise Dan joins a stretch battle.
"He won't let a horse go by him," LoPresti said. "If they get to him, he's not going to let them go by."
It was another 1 1/4 lengths back to Boisterous in third.
Wise Dan, by Wiseman's Ferry, completed the 1 1/8-mile turf race in 1:47.73 to improve to two wins in two starts in the 2014 season as he builds his case for a third straight Horse of the Year title. Wise Dan secured the fifth Churchill Downs graded stakes win, turf or dirt, of his career. He has won 13 of 14 lifetime starts on turf.
"The way he has trained and the way he's done, I would say, at this point in time, he's better than he was last year," LoPresti said. "This was a little bit stiffer group of horses. Nothing against the horses last year but with Point of Entry out it was pretty much his race last year."
Wise Dan earned his 18th stakes victory in his five seasons of racing. Out of 2013 Broodmare of the Year Lisa Danielle, by Wolf Power, Wise Dan is closing in on the $7 million mark in career earnings at $6,802,920.
Sent off at odds of 1-2, Wise Dan returned $3 to win, $2.40 to place, and $2.10 to show. Seek Again, second choice at 7-1, returned $4.80 and $3.80, while Boisterous paid $3.80 to show.
LoPresti is leaning toward resting Wise Dan until this summer's Saratoga Race Course meet but said he will consider the Stephen Foster Stakes (gr. I) on dirt at Churchill Downs in June.
Einstein secured his back-to-back victories in the 2008 and 2009 editions of the Woodford Reserve.