Eclipse Award contender Wise Dan came out of his Grade 1 Woodbine Mile
heroics in such fine fettle that trainer Charles Lopresti didn't want to keep
him in the barn until the Breeders' Cup. Thus Morton Fink's homebred was entered
in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000
Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, and judging by how he crushed the
opposition once again, it's clear why Lopresti couldn't hold him down.
Wise Dan overwhelmed pace factors Silver Max and Dominus turning into the stretch, and the 3-5 favorite strode clear with his customary authority. After posting a final time of 1:34 4/5 on the firm turf, Wise Dan paid $3.20, $2.40 and $2.40.
Now the winner of back-to-back "Win & You're In" events for the Breeders' Cup Mile, Wise Dan is likely to take up that engagement at Santa Anita. The Classic on dirt remains a theoretical option that connections have yet to rule out, but Lopresti noted in the winner's circle that he has some concerns about how Wise Dan would take to Santa Anita's main track.
Jose Lezcano picked up the mount on the outstanding older male at Keeneland. Regular rider John Velazquez was already committed to stay at Belmont, where he would pilot well-regarded juvenile Archwarrior in Saturday's Grade 1 Champagne. As it turned out, Archwarrior wound up fourth in the Champagne, while Wise Dan looked every inch a champion.
As Silver Max went to the early lead through an opening quarter in :23 1/5, Wise Dan galloped in a ground-saving spot in midpack. But once the field straightened up down the backstretch, Wise Dan was starting to drag Lezcano forward. He advanced all on his own, with Lezcano carefully steering him into the clear on the outside. By the time Silver Max got the half in :46 4/5, Wise Dan was well within striking range, and ready to pounce.
The pace-prompting Dominus was the first to accost Silver Max on the far turn, but Wise Dan was gathering momentum with every stride. Dominus briefly took over from a weakening Silver Max, only to be summarily brushed aside by Wise Dan.
"Yes, (Wise Dan) is getting better," Lopresti said afterward, in a scary thought for his competition. "He gained weight from the Woodbine Mile. I worked him one time here, and he just worked incredible here one morning. I told Mr. Fink, 'We just got to run him again. I don't want to breeze him too many more times.' I was worried. There were a lot of horses in here. Coming back off shipping to Woodbine and all, I was a little concerned. But I knew I was doing the right thing. The horse was good, and he showed up today.
"(Lezcano) told me he was really relaxed today," the trainer added. "(Lezcano) talked to Johnny Velazquez about it, and Johnny gave him all the instructions -- how to warm him up and everything about him -- and he rode him to the 'T.' "
The only suspense involved the minor awards, and longshots predominated. The 48-1 longshot Willcox Inn rallied to reduce the winner's margin to 2 1/4 lengths late. The 100-1 Slip and Drive checked in third, another 2 3/4 lengths adrift. Doubles Partner got up for fourth at 11-1. Data Link, the the 7-1 second choice, was along belatedly for fifth. Dominus faded to sixth, and Corporate Jungle, Swift Warrior, Silver Max, Skyring, Worthadd and Ol Army rounded out the order of finish.
Runner-up Willcox Inn ran himself into Breeders' Cup Mile consideration.
"I couldn't go with (Wise Dan) on that first turn," jockey James Graham said of his trip aboard Willcox Inn. "In the middle of the second turn I said to myself, 'We are going to be fifth.' Then I picked him up and boom, off he went. If we had been a little closer to the winner, I don't think we would have beaten him but we would have been closer to him at the finish.
"That horse (Wise Dan) is incredible. My horse is just coming into himself. He has a very quick turn of foot. I think you would have to take a hard look at the Breeders' Cup for him. Not only did he run great, he was coming hard at the end."
"We were very pleased with the way he came home," Willcox Inn's trainer Mike Stidham said. "He was really running at the end. He was making up a little ground on the winner at the end. We were very pleased with the way that he finished. We thought for awhile that the mile (distance) would suit him better and it did."
Unraced as a juvenile, Wise Dan showed ability when winning four of six starts at three. During that 2010 campaign, he captured his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland and finished a creditable sixth, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Wise Dan proved a triple-surface threat in 2011, winning the Grade 2
Firecracker Handicap in his turf debut, and adding the Presque Isle Mile on
Tapeta, before romping in the Grade 2 Fayette over Keeneland's Polytrack and
adding the Clark trophy.
His 2012 debut was scintillating -- a 10 1/2-length conquest of the Grade 3 Ben Ali, in a track-record time of 1:46.63 on the Keeneland Polytrack. Wise Dan returned to Churchill for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 16, only to lose by a head after a tough trip. That is his only loss in his past seven races.
Wise Dan reverted to turf for the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap August 11 at Saratoga, where he posted a five-length demolition job, and came back to dominate the September 16 Woodbine Mile by 3 1/4 lengths.
With this ninth career stakes victory to his credit, Wise Dan has bankrolled $2,461,638 from his 19-12-1-0 record. He could clinch a championship in the Breeders' Cup.
"We'll lean toward the Mile," Lopresti said, "but we won't rule out the Classic. Listening to everybody talk, I think he deserves to run in the Classic. I just watch those races at Santa Anita. Maybe that track's a little bit loose. It doesn't seem like it was as tight as it was -- just to me, anyway.
"If you watch him in the Stephen Foster, his action wasn't the best. In the Clark, (the track) had a lot of moisture and it was tighter.
"If you watch him the Stephen Foster, that track was kind of loose that night and he wasn't getting a hold of it. He just wasn't on the bridle but he still ran a good race. Then when I got him to Saratoga, he didn't train that great on the dirt, but he got better the more he was there.
"I'm a little worried about Santa Anita. It's the same kind of speed-oriented track, but it's a little deeper and looser. I don't know if he'll handle that. I know he'll handle the turf. We'll talk about it. We've got some options anyway."
The Kentucky-bred is by Wiseman's Ferry and out of the winning Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle. He is a half-brother to multiple Grade 2 victor Successful Dan, who set a new Churchill track record when taking the Grade 2 Alysheba on May 4. Another half-sibling, stakes winner Our Royal Dancer, is herself the dam of Argentinean Group 2-placed Bailando Voy.
Lisa Danielle is in turn a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Carsona, who has produced Grade 2 victor Siphon City. This is the family of German Group 1-winning highweight Scalo, who finished fourth in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf last time out at Woodbine, and further back, French champion, classic winner and noted sire *Val de Loir as well as dual classic heroine and Irish champion *Valoris II.