A winner of six of seven starts this year with his Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) victory Nov. 2, Wise Dan deserves repeat Horse of the Year honors, his trainer Charlie LoPresti said the morning after the race.
"I don't see any other horse," LoPresti said Sunday. "I try not to be biased, but he ran at five tracks this year and on all kinds of bad track conditions. He never dodged anybody.
"If Game On Dude had won the Classic (gr. I), he would have been unbeaten this year and I could not have questioned that if he were Horse of the Year."
LoPresti and owner/breeder Mort Fink were often criticized this year for the admittedly conservative schedule they employed for Wise Dan, which will cost the champion some votes this year.
Following his repeat win the BC Mile, Wise Dan left Santa Anita Park early Sunday morning for a flight from Ontario that left shortly after 5 local time and landed in Louisville, Ky., at 11:19 a.m. ET.
"Well, for those people who thought he had lost a step, he showed them yesterday," LoPresti said prior to catching a flight. "He is truly an amazing horse. He overcame adversity yesterday and still won."
Wise Dan, a homebred 6-year-old son of Wiseman's Ferry owned by Mort Fink, was ridden to victory by Jose Lezcano.
Lezcano filled in late for Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez who was injured in a fall during Saturday's Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and underwent surgery to have his spleen removed after he bled internally.
"I feel terrible for Johnny," LoPresti said. "I was watching the race, but I did not see who went down. Lezcano's agent called me and said Jose was open in the race and I was relieved there was somebody in the room that had ridden him before. Jose now has won four grade Is on him."
LoPresti said he is not tempted to run Wise Dan on dirt in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 29.
"There is no reason to run in the Clark; he is done for the year," LoPresti said. "If Game On Dude had won the Classic, we could have come back to try to win a grade I on dirt, but this horse has nothing to prove."
For the past three years, LoPresti has shut Wise Dan down in November and started back the following spring at Keeneland, where LoPresti is based year round.
Wise Dan started his 2013 campaign with a victory in the Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT) with Lezcano aboard.
"We will just take it step by step," LoPresti said of his plans for next year with the big chestnut. "A lot of it depends on weather, and if it is a bad winter in Kentucky, you may not see him until the summer."
Meanwhile, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert spoke about Game On Dude, denied for a third time in the Classic after hooking up in a speed duel and fading to ninth.
"Game On Dude, well, what can you say," he said. "He's a one-dimensional horse with a target on his back and they don't give one like him any breaks. You know they were saying 'Don't let that horse get in front of you.' And so when he can't clear, when he can't get out there and into that high cruising speed of his, he's in trouble.
"It just didn't happen for him. I felt sorry for him. "He's a great horse; so much fun to be around. And he had a great year. And the Classic was a great race. It just wasn't ours.
"If I had a vote for Horse of the Year, I'd vote for him," Baffert added. "He's my Horse of the Year. But the voting is up to others." Baffert declined to speculate on who he thought might wind up Horse of the Year, saying he'd leave that up to others to decide.
"Secret Circle, he's just a beast," the trainer said. "He's so big and strong. If you want to see what a real sprinter looks like, come see him. I told a guy that if he was going to rob a bank and had to get out of there real fast, this was the one horse he'd want.
"I thought he ran a spectacular race Saturday. I was in awe of it. He just might be the best sprinter I've ever had. I don't think anyone's seen a sprinter like that since (double Breeders' Cup winner) Midnight Lute. He's so competitive and he wants to win so much. He lost all that ground and kept on grinding, kept on coming. He's just a fighter."
"After that race yesterday, he was dragging our guys down to the test barn," Baffert said. "He's a handful. The sprint scene this year has been so in-and-out. And my horse won the big one. I think he's the champ."
Baffert thinks the same way about Juvenile winner New Year's Day.
"He ran some race, didn't he?" he said. "His first race at Del Mar was a sprint and he came running. Then we sent him a mile there and he just ate them up. He's a true distance horse, there's no doubt about that. The way he ran yesterday, on the inside, and the way he came on was terrific. If that race was a mile and an eighth he was going to open up on them. He's just full of talent, but the light isn't fully on yet. He's still learning.
"I've got to say he's a serious (Kentucky) Derby horse. (Owner) Gary West buys all these good young horses with two things in mind—the Breeders' Cup and the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). We'll have to be looking at all the preps; figuring out the points and all that. But that's the way we're going."