Heavily favored Wise Dan ran his winning streak to eight while rolling to a repeat victory in the $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course, defeating pacesetter King Kreesa by 1 1/4 lengths Aug. 10 (VIDEO).
The reigning Horse of the Year, who began his current victory string with a five-length tally in last year's Fourstardave, overcame the rail and a career-high 129-pound impost while spotting the runner-up 12 pounds. The 6-year-old son of Wiseman's Ferry clocked a strong time of 1:34 flat for the one-mile test over an inner turf course rated "good."
Wise Dan was the first reigning Horse of the Year to run at Saratoga since Rachel Alexandra, who finished second in the 2010 Personal Ensign (gr. I).
Coming off a two-length victory in the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) on a yielding Churchill Downs course June 29, Wise Dan has won all four of his starts this year, including grade I triumphs in the Maker's 46 Mile and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. It figures to only get tougher from here for the Morton Fink homebred trained by Charlie LoPresti as the gelding attempts to reproduce his Horse of the Year campaign of 2012.
"As I told some of you today, to prove that he's a great horse like everybody's talking about, he had to carry that weight," LoPresti said. "He was cruising up the rail. I was worried about that front-runner. When (Wise Dan) cruised up to him on equal terms, he had so much horse he just went right on by him. Johnny just kind of rode him out.
"I know that horse of ours has a great kick. And he proved he's a great horse today."
As in the Firecracker, Wise Dan found himself in a possibly precarious spot along the inside in the stretch. But a patient John Velazquez waited for room to open up as Lea weakened in the stretch. Wise Dan responded when called upon to challenge on the outside of King Kreesa.
King Kreesa, who stepped fractions of :24.21, :47.48, and 1:10.59 on the front end for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., was game for the fight as Wise Dan drew close at the furlong marker. But the relentless champion would not be denied in the final sixteenth, lengthening stride to edge away in the final yards under a brisk hand urging from Velazquez.
"Broke well, was in the right place following the speed in the race. After that, it was pretty easy," Velazquez said. "I knew at the time I pulled out it was going to be a fight down the lane and I know my horse is a fighter. It was awesome. It was a much tougher race than last year. (King Kreesa) was peaking at the right time. But my horse still did it, and with a lot of weight on top of him, too."
In a big effort, King Kreesa was 4 3/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Lea, with the late-running Mr. Commons getting up belatedly for fourth. Willyconker and Skyring trailed in the field of six.
"I knew [King Kreesa] was going to keep digging," said Jeremiah Englehart, trainer of King Kreesa. "With 129 pounds, (Wise Dan) still had the heart to run him down. It takes a real nice horse, and he is a champion."
"I had a lot of horse at the quarter pole, and I thought I could win the race, but Wise Dan is a great horse," said Ortiz of the runner-up. "I knew he was going to come."
Out of Broodmare of the Year Lisa Danielle, by Wolf Power, Wise Dan earned $300,000 for his latest win, upping his career total to $4,464,070. The big chestnut has won 17 of his 24 career races.
Wise Dan backers were rewarded with a payout of $2.80, $2.30, and $2.10, and an exacta worth $9 with third choice King Kreesa, who returned $3.80 and $2.50. Lea paid $2.40 to show.
Za Approval scratched.