Making his first start on turf in his 10th time out, Morton Fink’s homebred Wise Dan made a powerful stretch move en route to a 2 3/4-length win in the $203,000 Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) July 4 on closing day at Churchill Downs.
Wise Dan had his first breeze on turf June 28 for Charles Lopresti and it was impressive enough for the trainer to try the 4-year-old on the unfamiliar surface in the one-mile Firecracker. With Jon Court aboard and at odds of 14-1, Wise Dan stalked the leaders from third, took over nearing the eighth-pole, and drew clear in the stretch for his first win in four tries this season.
The gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry was bred in Kentucky and is out of the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle. He won for the fifth time and upped his earnings to $323,047.
Plutonium and Strike Impact set a moderate pace in the Firecracker, which went to post with 10 starters on the firm turf course. Plutonium ran the opening quarter-mile in :23.81, then Strike Impact took over while going a half-mile in :47.19 and 1:11.12. Wise Dan sat a stalking third the whole way, entered the stretch from the four path, and took over nearing the eighth-pole. He easily drew clear from the pacesetters and crossed the wire a decisive winner in 1:34.59.
Baryshnikov and Julien Leparoux, who loomed a threat at the top of the lane before being outrun by the winner, finished second as the 5-2 favorite, a neck in front of Strike Impact. Mystic was fourth.
Wise Dan looked to be a blossoming star as a 3-year-old, winning four of six starts including the Phoenix (gr. III) on the Keeneland Polytrack. But he finished off the board in his first three starts of 2011 including a fourth in a June 10 optional claimer on the Churchill main track last out.
“Mr. Fink and I were talking about it and decided that since he was nominated we would go up and work him on the grass just to see what he would do," Lopresti said. "They had him coming home (in the workout) in :23 and everyone was telling me he worked phenomenal, and Jon (Court) told us he could have gone around the track again.
"Jon rode him perfectly and that’s what this horse has needed all along. He had him sit back and just make one big run with him. I wanted that kind of a race. I didn’t want him in a speed duel. He needed to learn how to relax and he’s grown up and matured."
The winner returned $30.60, $12, and $7.40. Baryshnikov paid $5 and $3.80, while Strike Impact paid $4.20. The exacta (10-7) paid $160.40 and the trifecta (10-7-9) was worth $1,185.80.
Leparoux clinched his eighth Churchill Downs riding title Monday (fourth at the spring meet) with 53 victories, besting Corey Lanerie by six.
Steve Asmussen held off late charges by Ken McPeek and Eddie Kenneally to win his 10th training title and fifth straight, which began with the 2009 spring meet. Asmussen had 18 wins, one more than McPeek and Kenneally.
Richard and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds was the leading owner with eight wins, two ahead of Jay Em Ess Stable and 17-time champs Ken and Sarah Ramsey.