Horse of the Year Wise Dan ran his winning streak to six races and surpassed $4 million in career earnings handily in the $546,400 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) over yielding ground May 4 at Churchill Downs (VIDEO).
In the race preceding the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum1 Brands (gr. I), Jose Lezcano delivered Morton Fink's homebred Wise Dan to the winner's circle in comfortable style by 4 3/4 lengths for trainer Charles LoPresti.
On a rainy day in Louisville, Ky., the Woodford Reserve had much of its luster dampened by the late scratch of trainer Shug McGaughey's multiple grade I winner Point of Entry , who was 7-5 on the morning line. A couple of those that were left gave it a good try, but they could not match the three-time Eclipse winner when it mattered most.
Six-year-old Wise Dan completed the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve in 1:51.84 as the 3-5 favorite in the field of seven. Optimizer, who contested the pace with Silver Max, was second by 1 3/4 lengths, with Middie rallying from last to snatch the show spot by half a length from Silver Max.
Wise Dan is now 2-for-2 in 2013 following his one-length tally in the Makers 46 Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland April 12. The chestnut gelding by Wiseman's Ferry out of Broodmare of the Year Lisa Danielle earned his fifth consecutive grade I victory, and his sixth win at the top level overall.
Lezcano replaced regular rider John Velazquez aboard Wise Dan in the Woodford Reserve because Velazquez was committed to ride Point of Entry.
"What I worried about more than anything was it being slick," LoPresti said of the course condition. "That's what I saw in the race. He was having trouble on the first turn. I could see he was having trouble getting hold of it down the backside. I told Lezcano the most important thing is to make sure he's handling it good and to take care of him and save him until you really need to run as long as he's getting a hold of it and he did perfect. He never hit him, because that's what I told him."
LoPresti said Wise Dan would now rest up until the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. This one, he said, was for the doubters.
"A lot of people said he should've gone to Dubai or he shouldn't have been a three-time Eclipse Award winner," the trainer said. "He had to come back and redeem himself and I think there's no doubt after today that he's the same horse that we put away after the Breeders' Cup."
Wise Dan is now 2-for-2 over the Churchill turf after taking the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) in July 2011. He had also proven his mettle over cut ground, taking the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) by five lengths on the inner turf course at Saratoga Race Course last August.
Breaking from the far outside post, Lezcano settled Wise Dan into third on the outside of Silver Max and Optimizer led the way through the stretch the first time. As the field raced in single file through the opening turn and onto the backstretch, Silver Max maintained a slight edge over Optimizer while clipping off quarter mile fractions of :23.93, :48.51, and 1:13.18.
Wise Dan stalked the leaders around the far turn and into the stretch and the leaders were three abreast approaching mid-stretch. But the race to the wire was no contest as Wise Dan lengthened stride under left-handed urging from Lezcano to register an easy win.
"He responded like a champion today," said Lezcano, who also rode Wise Dan to victory in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) last October at Keeneland. "He responded very well when I asked him for run. I had a perfect trip and he felt very comfortable out there. Last time, I had to keep him closer to a slow pace and today I was able to relax him on the backside."
The big gelding earned $331,993 as he improved his career mark to 15 wins and one second from 22 starts with earnings of $4,059,631.
One of the few favorites to win on the Derby card, Wise Dan carried top weight of 124 pounds and paid $3.20, $2.60, $2.20.
Calumet Farm's Optimizer, returning to turf for trainer D. Wayne Lukas following a fourth-place finish in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) April 13, returned $4.20 and $3.20. He completed a $12.80 exacta.
Middie, who lagged far behind the field to the far turn, paid $5.80 to show.
Silver Max was followed by Bim Bam, Slim Shadey, and Jeranimo. Swift Warrior was an earlier scratch before being joined on the sidelines by Point of Entry.