Wise Dan, a grade I winner in his final start of 2011, picked up right where he left off in his first race of the year, romping by 10 1/2 lengths while setting a Keeneland Polytrack record in the $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) April 22 (VIDEO) .
Aggressive on the far outside as he pulled jockey John Velazquez to the lead leaving the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile main track test, Wise Dan had no worries as he took control on the final turn and came home under a hand ride. He was timed in 1:46.63, breaking the Polytrack mark of 1:46.77 established by Carriage Trail in October 2008. The distance was first run on Polytrack in 2006.
Surpassing $1 million in career earnings, Wise Dan carried top weight of 123 pounds as the 4-5 choice in the field of seven.
Wise Dan was making his first start since winning the Clark Handicap (gr. I) by nearly four lengths Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs, his first win over a fast dirt track. Winner of Keeneland's Fayette Stakes (gr. II) by four lengths in October, Wise Dan has now posted three victories in a row. He also improved his career mark on synthetic tracks to five wins in seven starts.
Charles Lopresti trains Morton Fink's 5-year-old homebred son of Wiseman's Ferry. The big chestnut gelding is out of Lisa Danielle, by Wolf Power.
Lopresti said he "kind of expected" Wise Dan to be a little rank in his return. "I was really worried he'd be too sharp," he told TVG. "But Johnny did a great job."
Off his smashing 2012 debut, Wise Dan figures to go to the head of the older handicap division.
“He’s a pretty special horse," Lopresti said.
Wise Dan was positioned on the outside as the field raced five wide into the first turn, with outsider Eye of the Leopard leading narrowly over second choice Rogue Romance. Wise Dan was bearing out on the turn as he fought Velazquez and finally got to the front over Eye of the Leopard. Quarter-mile fractions were swift, :24.33 and :47.36, as Wise Dan inched ahead down the backstretch.
By the time they reached the quarter pole following a six-furlong split of 1:11.07, Wise Dan was in command by about four lengths over Rogue Romance and the rallying Big Blue Kitten. Wise Dan extended his advantage through the stretch, leading by seven lengths at the furlong pole, and finished up under steady handling from Velazquez.
"That was unbelievable," Velazquez told TVG. "I fought him down the backstretch until I couldn't fight him anymore. In the stretch I just shook my reins at him and he took off again. I couldn't pull him up. He was going to go around again with me. He did it easy, though."
Big Blue Kitten, ridden by Javier Castellano, finished second by 2 3/4 lengths over Guys Reward and Corey Lanerie, who rallied belatedly for third. Cease finished fourth, followed by Eye of the Leopard, Ioya Bigtime, and Rogue Romance.
Wise Dan earned his ninth career victory in 15 starts. Besides the Clark and Fayette, he also won the Presque Isle Downs Mile over a synthetic track and the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Churchill turf last year. The Ben Ali victory, worth $90,000, boosted his career earnings to $1,009,601.
Spotting each of his rivals five pounds, Wise Dan paid $3.60, $3, $2.60. Big Blue Kitty returned $5.40 and $3.80, and the exacta paid $24.40. Guys Reward paid $6.20.