Morton Fink's homebred Wise Dan stated his case for Horse of the Year by
blitzing an international field in Saturday's $1,818,000
Cup Mile, and put an exclamation point on his victory by speeding in a Santa
Anita course-record 1:31.78 on the firm turf. With jockey John Velazquez
orchestrating an ideal passage throughout, Wise Dan powered past longtime leader
Obviously in midstretch and drew off to extend his winning streak to four.
Animal Kingdom, last year's Kentucky Derby-winning champion, ran a huge, if unlucky, race in his return from injury. Blocked on the inside for much of the stretch, the Team Valor International homebred finally burst through to outkick top European hope Excelebration and finished a barnstorming second. Obviously held third from the staying-on Excelebration, rounding out an all-American-based trifecta.
Wise Dan was handing trainer Charles Lopresti sweet compensation for his heartbreak in last year's Mile, when his Turallure was denied on the head-bob by 64-1 longshot Court Vision at Churchill Downs. There was no such spine-tingling suspense this time.
"He proved he was the best horse today," Lopresti said. "I never had any doubts. I was just a little concerned about how the race would shape up. He's just a special horse."
Bet down to 9-5 favoritism, Wise Dan broke alertly from post 2, and as expected, deferred to the confirmed front runner Obviously. Wise Dan drafted in his slipstream through splits of :23 1/5 and :46, and avoided any potential traffic issues when able to angle out comfortably on the far turn.
Joe Talamo, who guided Obviously to a third-place finish, believed that he
felt a modicum of early pressure.
"We figured to be on the lead and we had an easy lead," Talamo said. "I just wish that outside horse (Suggestive Boy) hadn't been out there. He just put pressure on us. I don't know if that cost us the race, but we did feel it. He stayed on well."
Excelebration fell a nose short of getting to Obviously and settled for fourth.
"It has been only 14 days since his last start," Excelebration's rider Joseph O'Brien said, alluding to his victory in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot, "and this was his first time on a left-handed course. Things were disorganized in the race, and he took a bit to catch up to it. I'm not sure you saw his best race."
Next came the local trio of Mr. Commons, Jeranimo and Suggestive Boy, followed by Moonlight Cloud and Willcox Inn.
Trainer Freddie Head was expecting better from Moonlight Cloud.
"She had a rough trip and maybe got a bit discouraged," Head said. "It's been a long season, but I'm a bit disappointed. I thought she'd run better than that."
Wise Dan, who provided payouts of $5.60, $3 and $2.80, improved his scorecard
to 20-13-1-0 and increased his earnings to $3,541,638. Ten of those wins have
now come in stakes.
Unraced as a juvenile, Wise Dan showed ability when winning four of six starts at three. During that 2010 campaign, he captured his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland and finished a creditable sixth, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.Wise Dan proved a triple-surface threat in 2011, winning the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap in his turf debut, and adding the Presque Isle Mile on Tapeta, before romping in the Grade 2 Fayette over Keeneland's Polytrack and adding the Clark trophy.
His 2012 debut was scintillating -- a 10 1/2-length conquest of the Grade 3 Ben Ali, in a track-record time of 1:46.63 on the Keeneland Polytrack. Wise Dan returned to Churchill for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 16, only to lose by a head after a tough trip. That is his only loss in his past eight races.
Wise Dan reverted to turf for the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap August 11 at Saratoga, where he posted a five-length demolition job, and came back to dominate the September 16 Woodbine Mile by 3 1/4 lengths. Lopresti had the option of training him up to the Breeders' Cup, but Wise Dan was doing too well to keep in the barn. He used the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile on October 6 at Keeneland as a virtual paid workout, with a 2 1/4-length jaunt.
"I was able to use that race at Keeneland as the perfect setup for today," Lopresti said. "I didn't have to do much with him. We'll probably take him back to our farm in Kentucky and give him some time. We'll make a plan for him at the first of the year."
The Kentucky-bred is by Wiseman's Ferry and out of the winning Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle. He is a half-brother to multiple Grade 2 victor Successful Dan, who set a new Churchill track record when taking the Grade 2 Alysheba on May 4. Another half-sibling, stakes winner Our Royal Dancer, is herself the dam of Argentinean Group 2-placed Bailando Voy.
Lisa Danielle is in turn a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Carsona, who has produced Grade 2 victor Siphon City. This is the family of German Group 1-winning highweight Scalo, and further back, French champion, classic winner and noted sire *Val de Loir as well as dual classic heroine and Irish champion *Valoris II.