Leading Horse of the Year candidate Wise Dan returned to the track Jan. 7 following some turnout time at trainer Charlie Lopresti's Forest Lane Farm near Lexington, joining half brother Successful Dan and grade I-winning stablemate Turallure at Keeneland.
The newly turned 6-year-old son of Wiseman's Ferry will train at his home base with an eye on the Maker's 46 Mile Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland during the spring meet as a target for his 2013 debut.
Wise Dan won the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) in a record 1:31.78 at Santa Anita Park Nov. 3, closing out a stellar campaign that included turf victories in Keeneland's Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT), the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (Can-IT) in Canada, and the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course. He was also second in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on dirt and set a record of 1:46.63 for 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack at Keeneland in the spring when rumbling to a 10 1/2-length Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) win.
"He's doing great," Lopresti said. "He put on about 100 pounds or so. I would think that mid-February, weather permitting, we'll probably go an easy three-eighths or a half. I can tell you right now, he didn't lose much conditioning. I watched him in the paddock over the last couple weeks, and he was ready to go back to work."
Wise Dan will gradually gear up for his return to the races. First he walked the shedrow under tack. On Jan. 9 and 10 he put in an easy jog with regular exercise rider Damian Rock in the saddle.
"We've just kind of been tack-walking him around the barn and jogging him a little bit, and we're still putting him in the round pen up there so he can play," Lopresti said. "We'll probably just fiddle with him the whole month of January, just kind of get him legged up, and February will be more serious."
Lopresti said this year's edition of the Ben Ali could be a fall-back plan if a delay in training occurs, and that a more detailed roadmap will be organized once the gelding returns to the races.
"The Maker's Mark Mile is the target as long as we don't have any hiccups in the road, and if we do, there's also the Ben Ali," he said. "We'd like to see him run in the Maker's Mark, but if it doesn't happen or weather holds us back here this winter and we get bad weather or something, I'm not going to push to make it."
The option of trying Wise Dan on dirt again in 2013 is one owner/breeder Morton Fink and Lopresti have already discussed. The chestnut has a victory in the 2011 Clark Handicap (gr. I) over the main track at Churchill to his credit.
"We may try to run him on dirt, Mr. Fink and I talked about that," the trainer remarked. "He can run on the dirt, he runs on any surface, but I think he's at his best on the turf, and it depends on what 'big brother' does."
That comment was a reference to Successful Dan, who was also bred by Fink out of the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle. The 7-year-old son of Successful Appeal is back in training after being sidelined with a strained distal sesamoidean ligament in his left foreleg while prepping for a start in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) last summer at Saratoga.
Successful Dan beat eventual 1-2 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) finishers Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill May 4, setting a track record of 1:41.04, and finished second to Fort Larned in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III) in June before going to the sidelines. He underwent stem cell therapy and was turned out at Lopresti's farm for the remainder of 2012.
"He could run in an allowance race like they wrote for him last year, which would be great, or he could be one that maybe would run in the Ben Ali," Lopresti said.
The gelding won the Greenbriar Fayette Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland in the fall of 2010 and came back after taking off 2011 to win a spring allowance at the Lexington oval leading into his Alysheba score.
"I'm going to be real picky about how many races he has, because I think that horse could be a Breeders' Cup Classic contender," Lopresti said. "He's a really good horse, but I'll mainly pick three or four races just to get him to the Breeders' Cup."
One more key runner back in training for Lopresti is Four D Stable's 2011 Woodbine Mile winner Turallure, a 6-year-old son of Wando who was sidelined with bone bruising following a fourth-place finish in the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) at Churchill in July.
"He'd be the one we'd run in an allowance race for sure," Lopresti said. "I'd like to put him in a race where he can win first time out and build from there."