Morton Fink’s homebred Wise Dan ended 2011 as one of the top older horses in the nation. Given the winter off while trainer Charlie Lopresti brought him along slowly in typical fashion, the 5-year-old gelding will begin his much anticipated campaign in the $150,000 Ben Ali (gr. III) April 22 at Keeneland.
The versatile son of Wiseman's Ferry will face six others in the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race, which is the feature of Keeneland’s nine-race Sunday card. Post time is scheduled for 4:42 p.m. EDT.
Wise Dan ended last season by winning four of five starts, three of them in graded company and all of them on different surfaces. He won the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Churchill Downs turf, the Presque Isle Mile on Tapeta, the Fayette (gr. II) on the Keeneland Polytrack, and the Nov. 25 Clark Handicap (gr. I) on the Churchill dirt to end a stellar season.
In 2010, Wise Dan won the Phoenix (gr. III), also on the Keeneland main track. Lopresti has been working him at Keeneland this spring, and the Lexington-based trainer said he seems to be doing every bit as good as stablemates Successful Dan and Turallure, who both came back to run well in their season debuts. Successful Dan, a half brother to Wise Dan, won an optional claimer at Keeneland April 6 and Turallure missed by a neck in the Maker’s 46 Mile (gr. IT) April 13.
“I think he’s doing really good; he’s as good as when I put him away,” Lopresti said. “Hopefully he’ll run as good as Successful Dan and Turallure. I want him to win, but first race off the bench I won’t be disappointed if he doesn't as long as he runs well.
“I'm pretty excited about running him this year. The race that we’re all eyeballing is the Stephen Foster (gr. I, June 16 at Churchill Downs) because that’s a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race. So we’ll let him run in this race and tell us where he’s at. Then we’ll go from there.”
Wise Dan, who will carry 123 pounds and gives five pounds to the rest of the field, will break from post 6 under John Velazquez.
Two Ben Ali starters are entering off of recent wins. Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Cease scored in the listed Maxxam Gold Cup Handicap March 13 at Sam Houston, while Catesby Clay’s Rogue Romance took an optional claimer by three lengths March 31 at Gulfstream Park.
Cease, trained by Al Stall Jr., finished second in his only try on Polytrack, that coming in his racing debut at Keeneland in 2010. Miguel Mena will have the mount.
Rogue Romance will be making his first start on a synthetic surface. However his biggest win came on the Keeneland turf course in the Bourbon (gr. IIIT), also in 2010. The son of Smarty Jones was third in the Grey Goose Breeders Cup Juvenile (gr. I) later that season. Trainer Kenny McPeek has assigned Julien Leparoux to ride.
Another main contender is Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Big Blue Kitten , who was scratched out of the Maker’s 46 Mile. The homebred son of Kitten's Joy has never been off the board in eight starts, with five victories.
The 4-year-old won the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga last summer and was third in the grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap in his most recent start. Big Blue Kitten won his only race on the Keeneland Polytrack when breaking his maiden as a juvenile by five lengths in a $50,000 claimer last spring.
$150,000 Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III, Race 8, 4:22 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Polytrack)