The champ is back. Morton Fink's 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan easily won the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT) by a length over Data Link April 12 at Keeneland, successfully making his 2013 debut while recording his sixth straight victory (VIDEO).
Racing for the first time since his record-setting romp in the Nov. 3 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), the 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding stalked an easy pace set by Silentio and powered for home three wide coming off the turn. He took the lead midstretch under jockey Jose Lezcano and held off the late run of his closest contender, while Mr. Commons finished two lengths back in third.
Final time for the mile on firm turf was 1:36.37.
"I was a little concerned turning for home that he would get a little tired, but his class got him home," trainer Charlie LoPresti said.
Excitement for Wise Dan's return could be felt at Keeneland from the moment the chestnut runner stepped into the paddock there. Photographers tracked his every move, from saddling to the walking ring. Even outside the ring, fans among the 15,406 in attendance crowded along the rail holding cameras and smartphones to snap shots of the Horse of the Year. Throughout the pre-race activities, Wise Dan didn't turn a hair.
Pre- and post-race antics did abound courtesy of two other starters, Mr. Commons and Skyring. The former dumped jockey Corey Nakatani before the start behind the gate; a valiant Nakatani did not release the reins and was quickly legged back up. The latter, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, unseated his rider after the race and was apprehended by an outrider in the chute. Neither Natkatani nor Napravnik were injured in their falls.
After an even break for the field of five, Silentio took the lead from the inside with Skyring pressing the pace about a length back. Wise Dan, favored at 2-5 and eager to get into the race, was under stout restraint while tracking those two four wide on the outside as the quarter went in :24.61 followed by a half in :48.84.
"He was very fresh," Lezcano said. "He wanted to go on, but I wanted to slow him down. I knew that Data Link would be coming at the end."
Silentio held the lead through three-quarters in 1:13.11, but Wise Dan was breathing down his neck after advancing on his own courage. The Horse of the Year hung momentarily after coming off the turn, then switched to his right lead and rebroke through seven-eighths in 1:24.54, keeping Data Link and jockey Javier Castellano at bay.
Castellano admitted his horse, Stuart S. Janney's 2012 Maker's 46 Mile winner who was coming off back-to-back wins in graded stakes races for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, was no match for Wise Dan.
"My target was the winner," he said of the 7-2 second choice. "The better horse won the race. I was second-best today. I am not disappointed at all in my horse and what he did today."
Wise Dan returned $2.80, $2.10, and $2.10. Data Link paid $3 and $2.20. Mr. Commons brought $2.80. Skyring and Silentio completed the order of finish.
Wise Dan, who won four other graded stakes last year including Keeneland's Oct. 6 Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT), was bred in Kentucky by Fink out of the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle. In addition to his Horse of the Year honors, he received the Eclipse Award for outstanding turf male of 2012 and was named top older horse as well.
"People asked me earlier, 'What horse do you fear?' I said, 'I fear the layoff the most,'" LoPresti remarked. "I didn't crank him as tight as he needed to be for this race. Turning for home, I hoped he was going to win, but I knew he might get a little tired. He kicked in on heart alone. He's a good horse."
With the Maker's 46 win, Wise Dan improved his record to 14-1 from 21 starts, with earnings of $3,727,638. According to LoPresti, the May 4 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs is an option for his next start, but he could go to the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) on dirt at the Louisville oval next time out instead. Wise Dan was second in the 2012 renewal of the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, losing by a head to Ron the Greek in his only dirt start of the season.
"Maybe we'll win it this year," LoPresti said.