Wise Dan took his first step toward a possible third straight Horse of the Year title with a measured victory in the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT) on the Keeneland turf April 11 (VIDEO).
Trainer Charlie LoPresti says he may try some different tests this season with Wise Dan as the 7-year-old gelding attempts to match Forego, the last three-time Horse of the Year (1974-76). But for his first start of the year, Morton Fink's homebred chestnut put on a show for the local fans at his home track, where he has won a record six stakes.
Wise Dan stalked the pace from fourth before advancing on the leaders three paths wide rounding the far turn. With smooth strides, the son of Wiseman's Ferry quickly took command in the drive as Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez guided him to victory by three-quarters of a length in 1:34.91 over firm going.
Kaigun, the longest shot in the field of six at 37-1, ran on for second, overtaking grade I winner Lochte in the drive, with second choice Za Approval fourth.
"I was worried about it (the race) just because of the winter and how much (training) time we lost," LoPresti said. "I told Johnny (Velazquez) going into the race that I just don't have him as tight as I need to but just give him an easy race and if he's good enough to win just do the best you can to save him for the next one. This one is going to put us where we need to be."
The trainer said he would speak with Fink about the next race for Wise Dan, but noted that last season, they chose to run in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) undercard.
"We'll just see," LoPresti said. "If he comes back good, if he's not too tired, that's where we'll go. Maybe we'll do something else. Just see how he comes back."
Wise Dan became the first horse since Kip Deville in 2007-08 to record back-to-back victories in the Maker's 46 Mile, previously known as the Maker's Mark Mile. The race was inaugurated as the Fort Harrod Stakes in 1989.
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, the winner paid $2.80, $2.40, and $2.10 as the 2-5 choice. Kaigun returned $12.40 and $5.40, completing a $37 exacta. Lochte paid $2.80 to show.
Wise Dan was successful in his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park Nov. 2, and has now won 11 of his past 12 races, including eight grade Is. His only loss during that span came in an off-the-turf Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I) last October at Keeneland.
Under a hold early after breaking alertly from post 3, Wise Dan fought Velazquez's restraint before settling back into fourth on the first turn as Alakazan Alakazan took a narrow advantage on the inside over Lochte through the opening half mile in moderate fractions of :23.97 and :47.12.
Alakazan Alakazan led into the far turn but weakened as Lochte and Orlando Bocachica made their bid, completing six furlongs in 1:11.03, and Wise Dan progressed on the outside to take second. Angled into the three path for the drive, Wise Dan took the advantage at the top of the lane and drew clear by 1 1/2 lengths mid-stretch. He held off the late-running Kaigun and Alan Garcia while under steady handling from Velazquez, who showed the champion the whip in the final furlong.
Velazquez said he wanted to get Wise Dan to relax in the early part of the race so he would have something left for the drive.
"He got a little strong on the backstretch, so I let him get his position to where he was comfortable," Velazquez said. "From then on, he did it very well.
"This horse is incredible. They don't come around that often. He's definitely a special horse, and he's proven it the last two, three years."
Velazquez was reunited with Wise Dan here after missing the Breeders' Cup Mile when badly injured in an earlier fall at Santa Anita. Jose Lezcano stepped in for the Breeders' Cup mount on Wise Dan.
Kaigun, last for the opening half mile, was 4 1/4 lengths clear of Lochte, while Za Approval, shuffled back to last at the quarter pole, rallied mildly for fourth. Gentleman's Kitten and Alakazan Alakazan trailed. Reload was an early scratch.
Bred in Kentucky by Fink out of the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle, Wise Dan ran his career record to 20 wins from 28 starts with two seconds and earnings of $6,473,610.
"It’s like a dream: the whole thing," Fink said. "He does everything right."