Morton Fink's Wise Dan squarely put himself in the mix for a variety of championships this year with a superior course-record victory in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park Nov. 3 (VIDEO).
With John Velazquez riding as usual for trainer Charles Lopresti, Wise Dan sat third behind front-running Obviously early in the race before moving into second on the final turn. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Wiseman's Ferry took the lead in the lane and wasn't threatened, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Animal Kingdom .
Wise Dan, the favorite, finished the one mile on turf in 1:31.78 to break the previous Santa Anita record of 1:31.89 set by Atticus in 1997. Animal Kingdom, returning from a long layoff, ran extremely well, rallying between horses to nab second over Obviously.
Despite the final time, the early fractions weren't that quick. Obviously, ridden by Joe Talamo, set an unpressured pace of :23.34 for the opening quarter-mile and :46.16 for the half-mile with Suggestive Boy, Wise Dan, and Excelebration not far behind.
Talamo cut Obviously loose heading into the far turn as evidenced by a six-furlong split of 1:08.81. It was at that point Velazquez gave Wise Dan his cue, and he took over after seven furlongs in a sharp 1:20.31.
Obviously held well for third, but the only horse to make up ground on the winner was Team Valor International's Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner who won his 2012 debut on the grass at Gulfstream Park but was sidelined with an injury. Trainer Graham Motion got the 4-year-old colt by Leroidesanimaux back in racing form at the highest level if his effort is any indication.
Velazquez said he wanted to place Wise Dan, who is quick early but also has serious late run, in the right spot. He did. "When I was able to do that, and you've got a horse as good as this, you can expect a result like this," Velazquez said.
There was a question whether Wise Dan would race in the Mile or the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), but after Wise Dan won the Shadwell Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland, the connections opted to keep the gelding on the grass.
"I was able to use the (Shadwell Mile) as the perfect set-up for today," Lopresti said. "He proved he was the best horse today. I never had any doubts. He's just a special horse.
"We'll probably take him back to our farm in Kentucky and give him some time. We'll make a plan for him at the first of the year."
Motion said "seconds are tough" but he was thrilled with how Animal Kingdom ran despite being steadied at the top of the stretch. "What a great run and what a great horse," Motion said.
Wise Dan paid $5.60, $3, and $2.80. Animal Kingdom returned $6.60 and $4.60, while Obviously paid $4.20 to show. The $1 exacta paid $27.30, and the $1 trifecta paid $124.70.
Wise Dan, also bred by Fink, has now won four consecutive one-mile turf races, three of them grade I and one grade II. He also won the grade III Ben Ali Stakes on Polytrack to start his 2012 campaign, and just missed in the grade I Stephen Foster Handicap on dirt.
After the Breeders' Cup Mile Fink said he believes Wise Dan has the credentials to be Horse of the Year for 2012.