Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan continued to progress toward his season debut, turning in an easy five-furlong breeze in 1:00 3/5 under regular rider Damien Rock on the Polytrack Apirl 1 at Keeneland.
Heading up a string of Charlie LoPresti-trained runners, Morton Fink's homebred 7-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding walked onto the Lexington oval under a cover of darkness a little after 6 a.m. and enjoyed his usual morning routine, standing to survey the frontside while a few early risers snapped his photograph. Then it was off to work with a brisk gallop leading in and an equally powerful gallop out—six furlongs in 1:13 1/5, the six-time Eclipse Award winner going about his preparations with trademark fluid strides.
A defense of the April 11 Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT) remains the target for Wise Dan, although LoPresti is covering bases with his usual "Lord willing and the creek don't rise" approach.
"If we have a hiccup or I don't like what I see when we get back to the barn in the next couple days, we could always go to the (April 19) Ben Ali (gr. III on Polytrack)," LoPresti said. "I'd like to run him (in the Maker's 46), I hope this turf (course is good)... I don't know... there's not a lot of grass on it. It is greener (this week); last week it was still brown and there's not even a lot of grass in the yard at my house. It does look greener. I think if we get the rain and we get the sunshine (expected in the forecast), we'll be okay."
LoPresti maintains that Wise Dan will come into form best in the summer as he has in past seasons. Following a repeat victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), the trainer gave his chestnut runner the winter off at his Forest Lane Farm. He brought Wise Dan back into training in January with his first breeze of 2014 recorded at Keeneland Feb. 24 and has sent him through six works so far this season.
"I think we're a little bit behind the eight ball only because of the weather; we missed a week when they did maintenance on the track so I kind of had to squish his works together a little bit," LoPresti said. "Just a couple days ago, Rock said he's really starting to come into himself. The last three or four days he's been really on it around the barn, and he drug Rock around (the racetrack) yesterday. You could see he looked like he was dragging him down the backside this morning. I think if he would have ever let him run, he would have worked a lot faster.
"He's accustomed to this place. You take him to Saratoga and work him on the turf and he freaks up there. And he's fitter then; he's going to be better off in the summer. I think he really turned the corner—I think his best race was at Woodbine (a record-setting repeat in the Sept. 15 Ricoh Woodbine Mile, gr. IT)—but I think he really turned the corner after the (June 29) Firecracker (gr. IIT). When he got to Saratoga, that's when he really got good."
LoPresti said Wise Dan is coming into form as well as he did last year, but he'll need a race to tighten the screws. Last year he won the Maker's 46 Mile by a length over 2012 Maker's 46 Mile winner Data Link to kick off his second straight championship season.
"I think last year I had him three-quarters of the way fit, I didn't have him as tight as he could have been, and I'm not leaning on him this year, really," the trainer said. "Plus, I've lost some time, so he's going to need the race. But we've got to get started, and hopefully he's good enough to beat whoever is coming."
A check-in with Wise Dan generally means a check-up on half brother Successful Dan, and LoPresti had news of a setback on the morning of April 1. The 8-year-old son of Successful Appeal has been dialed back to tack walking and will miss several weeks of speed drills due to inflammation in the sesamoidean ligament that has plagued him in the past.
"He worked better than Wise Dan did last week," LoPresti said. "We sent him over to Dr. Bramlage because we do that from time to time, and we hadn't had him over there since we got him back into training this year. We think he's sound and he looks good and everything, but Dr. Bramlage ultrasounded that sesamoidean ligament and said he's got some inflammation in there.
"There are no tears, but he said, 'Charlie, if you press on with him—he's telling you he's ready to run and he is ready to run—but whenever there's inflammation there and you press on him, you could risk having a tear. So he wanted us to back up a little bit and let him catch up a little bit."
Successful Dan, a multiple grade II winner who last year ran second in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) and third in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course, won the Ben Ali last spring at Keeneland. The setback takes him out of consideration for the early part of the Churchill Downs meet as well, LoPresti said.
"He's just tack walking right now; we're going to give him a couple weeks of tack walking, then we're going to start jogging him," the trainer explained. "The thing about that horse, you have to look at him all the time because he doesn't give any sign (of injury). If he'd been running or we breezed him again, he could tear and be out for six months again. So we have to really watch him close.
"It's the same exact thing that happened at Saratoga after the Woodward; we brought him home thinking maybe we would run him here, and we found the inflammation again. With that horse, we know what to look for now, and we keep a close eye on him. He'll be back, though, don't worry about that—and when he comes back, you know how he runs."