Morton Fink's Wise Dan, winner of last year's Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) and Horse of the Year in 2012, drew post four in a field of six as the 2-5 favorite for this year's edition of the $1 million grass test Sept. 15 in Toronto.
Wise Dan, to carry top weight of 124 pounds, is trained by Charles LoPresti. The 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) victor brings an eight-race winning streak into the Woodbine Mile. He will be trying to become the first horse to win the race twice.
Officials are expecting the turf course to be in good condition by Sunday. The Ontario region was hit by severe thunderstorms Sept. 11 and further rain was expected throughout Thursday. However, clouds are expected to depart Friday, leaving dry conditions for the weekend racing, which includes five graded stakes on turf.
Last year, as a 1-2 favorite, the 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding prevailed by 3 1/4 lengths over Hunters Bay . He'll be trying to give his trainer a third straight Woodbine Mile triumph, beginning with Turallure in 2011, which would tie LoPresti with Neil Drysdale and Bobby Frankel for most wins.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who has won the Woodbine Mile a record three times (with Riviera in 2000, Leroidesanimaux in 2005, and Wise Dan last year), again has the mount on the versatile career winner of 17 of 24 starts, who is an earner of more than $4.4 million.
Wise Dan is to depart Keeneland by van late on the afternoon of Sept. 12 and is expected to arrive at Woodbine in the early morning hours, LoPresti said by telephone following the post position draw.
Also in the field are Za Approval (4-1), runner-up in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) in his most recent start June 29, and British invader Trade Storm (8-1), a group II winner making his initial North American appearance.
The others are all coming out of the seven-furlong Play the King (Can-IIT) Aug. 25 over the Woodbine turf, including Dimension, a sharp front-running victor at odds of 10-1. Excaper, who was second, and Riding the River, who was fourth in last year's Woodbine Mile and most recently third in the Play the King, complete the field.
The 17th edition of one of North America's premier grass races will be televised live in Canada on Sportsnet 360 in a special presentation from 4:30 to 6 p.m. EDT, with post time scheduled for 5:38 p.m. The race, the 10th on the Woodbine program, also will be shown live on TVG.
For the sixth consecutive year, the Woodbine Mile is part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" series and will offer the winner an all-expenses paid berth (entry fees and travel costs) into the Breeders' Cup Mile Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.
Wise Dan arrives fresh off a 1 1/4-quarter length score in the Fourstardave (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course over one mile on good turf Aug. 10, a race he also won in 2012. The big chestnut carried a career-high 129 pounds in that effort, which followed a two-length triumph in the June 29 Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) under 128 on a yielding Churchill Downs turf course. He is unbeaten in four starts this year and is a remarkable 10-for-11 mark at the one-mile distance in his career.
"I think his toughest race this year was at Churchill in the Firecracker," said LoPresti of the one-mile event. "For as little money as he ran for he had to carry the top weight of 128 pounds on a tough course.
"When we put that weight on him in the Firecracker, it set a precedent for the rest of the year and he had to carry more weight in the Fourstardave,” LoPresti added. “We'll carry (124 pounds) in the Woodbine Mile, and he won't be giving such a spread to the other horses. That's the biggest concern. It's not the weight, it's the spread.”
Wise Dan breezed four furlongs in :48 1/5 Sept. 10 at Keeneland in his final tune up for the Woodbine Mile. He figures to get his usual stalking trip under Velazquez.
"Our biggest goal this year is to keep him undefeated, and this race seems to make the most sense," LoPresti said.
Live Oak Plantation's Za Approval, trained by Christophe Clement, arrives from New York after finishing second to Obviously in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) at Betfair Hollywood Park. The homebred 5-year-old gelded son of Ghostzapper has won six of 14 career outings, including two grade III stakes—the Appleton at Gulfstream Park and Red Bank at Monmouth Park—that preceded his last start.
Garrett Gomez, who has won the Mile twice before with Shakespeare in 2007 and Ventura in 2009, will ride the gray/roan runner for the first time. Gomez was also aboard Right One for Clement in 2011 when finishing third in a photo with Turallure and Courageous Cat .
Dimension surprised in the Play the King for Riverside Bloodstock and 29-year-old Irish trainer Conor Murphy, rolling to a 2 1/4-length win while completing the seven furlongs in 1:19.88 over a firm course. The 5-year-old British-bred gelding recorded his first success in six North American starts dating back to last October. He returns to Woodbine for a third consecutive time after first competing in the Bold Venture on Polytrack July 17 when beaten a neck by champion sprinter Essence Hit Man.
After setting blazing fractions (:22.24, :44.26) for jockey David Moran in the Play the King, Dimension seems a logical pacesetter once more with Excaper likely to keep him company. The son of Medicean will attempt to become the first horse since Soaring Free in 2004 to win both the Play the King and Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
Excaper, trained by Ian Black for Richard Kaster and Frederick Wieting, is to be ridden by Woodbine's leading rider and two-time Sovereign Award winner Luis Contreras. The 4-year-old Exchange Rate colt, seeking his first stakes win, was second in both the Summer Stakes Presented by TVG (Can-IIIT) and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) in 2011.
"If someone had told me that day, that 20 months later this horse would still have not won a stake, I'd have been very surprised," said Black, who saddled Rahy's Attorney to a 12-1 upset in the 2008 Woodbine Mile.
Qatar Racing's Trade Storm, trained by David Simcock, arrives from England after battling some of Europe's best. To be ridden by 50-year-old Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, who is in the midst of a successful comeback this season after a seven-year retirement, the 5-year-old son of Trade Fair enters off a third to Afsare in the Betfair Celebration Mile (Eng-II) at Goodwood Aug. 24. Afsare finished second to Little Mike in last year's Arlington Million (gr. IT).
Trade Storm, who will race with Lasix for the first time, counts five wins from 26 starts overall with earnings of $686,134. Compeitng in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year, he won the Zabeel Mile (UAE-II) and was fourth in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) in March at Meydan.
Riding the River, trained by Dave Cotey, makes his third consecutive appearance in the Woodbine Mile after finishing fifth in 2011 and fourth one year ago.
Last year, he won the King Edward and Nijinsky Stakes (both Can-IIT) and repeated in the King Edward this year. The 6-year-old gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry is owned by Dominion Bloodstock, HGHR Inc., and Linmac Farm. He will be ridden by Todd Kabel, who was aboard Soaring Free when winning the 2004 Mile.
Four horses which raced in the Woodbine Mile have won the Breeders' Cup Mile. However, Wise Dan is the only one to win both. The others are 2007 Woodbine runner-up Kip Deville and 1999 fifth-place finisher Silic, who both went on to win the Breeders' Cup Mile the same year. In 2010 Woodbine Mile winner Court Vision captured the 2011 Breeders' Cup Mile.
$1 Million Woodbine Mile (Can-IT, Race 10, 5:38 p.m.), 3 & Up (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Riding the River (KY), T Kabel, 121, D Cotey, 15/1
2. Excaper (KY), L Contreras, 117, I Black, 12/1
3. Trade Storm (GB), G L Stevens, 121, D Simcock, 8/1
4. Wise Dan (KY), J R Velazquez, 124, C LoPresti. 2/5
5. Dimension (GB), D Moran, 121, C Murphy, 10/1
6. Za Approval (KY), G K Gomez, 119, C Clement, 4/1