Versatile gelding Wise Dan registered the first grade I victory of his career when he wore down Mission Impazible in the final furlong to easily capture the $572,500 Clark Handicap by 3 3/4 lengths at Churchill Downs Nov. 25 (VIDEO).
Ridden for the first time by John Velazquez, Martin Fink's Kentucky homebred Wise Dan was victorious for the fourth time in eight starts in 2011 for trainer Charles Lopresti. Wise Dan was coming off a four-length tally in the Fayette Stakes (gr. II) over Keeneland's Polytrack Oct. 29 and won the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Churchill turf earlier in the year. The Clark was Wise Dan’s first stakes triumph on dirt.
The winning 4-year-old son of of Wiseman's Ferry out of the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle completed the 1 1/8-mile Clark in 1:48.95 on a fast track.
Mission Impazible was a clear second by 2 3/4 lengths over 2-1 favorite Flat Out , attempting to bolster his credentials for Horse of the Year honors, with Mister Marti Gras fourth.
Wise Dan gave Fink and Lopresti a bit of redemption for last year’s Clark in which their Successful Dan was disqualified from an apparent victory. Successful Dan finished a head in front of Giant Oak a year ago, but because of interference with Redding Colliery in the upper stretch, was disqualified and placed third.
“It was perfect and I was pretty confident going into the race, other than about whether he could go the 1 1/8 miles on the dirt," Lopresti said. "But I thought he was going to run one of his best races today. I would have been disappointed if he didn’t do it. It looked like the Fayette. It was the same kind of race. He’s a pretty good horse. Just stay out of his way and try to take care of him.
“I was really disappointed last year," he added. "I just didn’t understand why they took his number down, but they saw it that way and I have to respect their opinion. I jokingly said surely we don’t get taken down this year. It’s a dream come true to be back here with this many good horses.”
Wise Dan was prominent throughout while racing in third on the outside and stalking 21-1 pacesetter Will's Wildcat and Mission Impazible through quarter-mile fractions of :23.80, :48.24, and 1:12.80.
Mission Impazible, ridden by Javier Castellano, was the first to move on the turn, getting the lead from Will's Wildcat. Wise Dan was advancing quickly on his outside for Velazquez, however, drawing even in upper stretch and gradually gaining control as they reached the furlong pole. Wise Dan won going away over the weakening Mission Impazible.
“I like these pickup mounts," said Velazquez, who replaced Julien Leparoux aboard Wise Dan in the Clark. "It worked out perfect. I was on the outside and the trainer told me he was going to be pulling pretty strong, but to keep him third or fourth. Right from the start I got him back and he settled pretty good. He was strong in hand and when I got to the quarter pole he took off and moved so smoothly. He was very confident in himself.”
Flat Out, the 123-pound high weight in the field of 13, appeared to have a clean trip for Alex Solis but made only a mild bid in the stretch before flattening out. Coming back quickly from his fifth-place finish as the lukewarm favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) over the track Nov. 5, Flat Out finished in the money for the first time in four starts at Churchill.
Also disappointing were the 3-year-olds Ruler On Ice, the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner, who finished fifth, and Prayer for Relief, a multiple graded stakes winner who finished ninth. Either could have made a strong case for divisional honors with a victory.
Wise Dan also won the Presque Isle Downs Mile on Tapeta this season and was a close fourth in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland prior to the Fayette. The victory, his eighth in 14 lifetime races, boosted Wise Dan's earnings to $919,601. The Clark victory was worth $326,554. The chestnut, sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) last year, has won three of six starts at Churchill.
Lopresti said he plans to give Wise Dan the winter off and bring him back next spring.
Sent off as the co-second choice, Wise Dan carried 120 pounds to victory and paid $11, $6, $4.20.
Twin Creek's Racing Stable's Mission Impazible, rebounding from a ninth-place finish in the Fayette for trainer Todd Pletcher, also ran second in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill in June. He paid $7 and $5.40 and completed a $79.80 exacta.
“He’s run two big races, but unfortunately he’s been a bridesmaid twice there this year in the two Grade Is," Pletcher said. "But it was another big effort from him and we’re proud of him.”
Preston Stables' Flat Out, who concludes the season with victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park for trainer Scooter Dickey, returned $3.20.
It was 1 1/4 lengths back Mister Marti Gras in fourth. He was followed by Ruler On Ice, Headache, Alma d'Oro, Will's Wildcat, Prayer for Relief, Stately Victor , Demarcation, Pleasant Prince, and General Quarters .