Morton Fink's two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan faces the stiffest challenge of his remarkable return from colic surgery when he takes on Seek Again and Silver Max among seven rivals in the $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland Oct. 4.
The marquee grass race with the newly boosted purse is the first seven-figure event in the Lexington track's history. It has been Wise Dan's key prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) for the past two years, after which the Wiseman's Ferry gelding has gone on to ace that season's-end event at Santa Anita Park.
"He is just an amazing horse," trainer Charlie LoPresti said of the 7-year-old chestnut, who visited the starting gate Oct. 1 and then had an easy gallop through the fog under regular exercise rider Damien Rock. "He is about as good as I can get him."
All entrants have been assigned 126 pounds for the Shadwell Turf mIle.
Wise Dan will be going after his 14th consecutive victory on grass when he breaks from post 6 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. He has won 10 grade I races overall and is undefeated in a 2014 campaign that began with a victory at Keeneland April 11 in the Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT).
He won the Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs May 3, but less than two weeks later underwent emergency colic surgery. He successfully returned with a nose victory over Optimizer Aug. 30 in the Bernard Baruch (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course.
LoPresti gave Wise Dan his final major preparation for the Shadwell on Sept. 29 with a strong gallop on the main dirt track.
"He was going in 12s and 13s (seconds) at every pole and I got his last eighth in :12.9 and he was just galloping," LoPresti said.
Wise Dan has won a record six graded stakes at Keeneland, three of them grade I events including the 2012 Shadwell. All three of his grass victories at his home track have come over firm courses, a condition that may not be in play Saturday. But that is not a concern for LoPresti, who sent the gelding to grade I victory over damp courses before.
"It looks like we are going to get rain (this weekend) and that doesn't bother me," the trainer said. "He has run in a bog before; done it a couple of times."
In addition to Optimizer, the two horses that have finished closest to Wise Dan this year— Kaigun and Juddmonte hombred Seek Again—and Silver Max, the most recent horse to beat him, are coming back to challenge the champ.
In last year's Shadwell, which was rained off the turf and moved to the former all-weather main track, Silver Max went straight to the lead and held off Wise Dan by 1 1/4 lengths. Following a fourth-place finish in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Mile behind the six-time Eclipse Award winner, Silver Max was off nearly eight months before returning to win the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) at Churchill in late June.
The 5-year-old son of Badge of Silver finished sixth in the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga in his only other start for owners Mark Bacon and Dana Wells and trainer Dale Romans this year. Silver Max will be ridden by Robby Albarado from post position 4.
The Fourstardave, a race Wise Dan won in 2012 and 2013, was taken this year by Seek Again, who finished a head behind Wise Dan in the May 3 Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill. He then was third behind Real Solution and Kaigun in the June 7 Knob Creek Manhattan (gr. IT), run at 1 1/4 miles on the Belmont Park lawn.
Shortened up to the mile distance of the Fourstardave, the Bill Mott trainee got up by a game neck over Grand Arch in the Fourstardave after experiencing traffic trouble in the stretch. Seek Again will be ridden by Joel Rosario from the far outside post.
Trained by Mark Casse, Kaigun finished three-quarters of a length back in the Maker's 46 Mile and was fourth to Wise Dan in the Turf Classic. He won the Play the King (gr. IIT) at Woodbine in August and most recently was second in the Woodbine Mile (gr. IT). Kaigun will break from post 5 under Patrick Husbands.
The Shadwell Turf Mile is a Win and You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Mile and goes as the ninth on Saturday's 10-race program with a post time of 5:45 p.m. EDT.
Keeneland, Saturday, October 04, 2014, Race 9
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Sayaad (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 126 Kiaran P. McLaughlin - 2 2Optimizer (KY) Alan Garcia 126 Jose Fernandez - 3 3Grand Arch (KY) David Moran 126 Brian A. Lynch - 4 4Silver Max (KY) Robby Albarado 126 Dale L. Romans - 5 5Kaigun (ON) Patrick Husbands 126 Mark E. Casse - 6 6Wise Dan (KY) John R. Velazquez 126 Charles Lopresti - 7 7Two Notch Road (VA) Paco Lopez 126 Glenn R. Thompson - 8 8Seek Again (KY) Joel Rosario 126 William I. Mott -
Keeneland, Saturday, October 04, 2014, Race 9