Horse of the Year Wise Dan is sitting on "go" for the $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) to be run at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 10, following a half-mile breeze over the New York oval's main track Aug. 3.
Out shortly after the track opened at 5:30 a.m., Wise Dan went four furlongs in :49.59, galloping out five-eighths in 1:02 to rank 29th of 48 horses who went the distance.
The move came one week after a sizzling five-furlong work over the Oklahoma training track turf course in :57.38, after which trainer Charlie LoPresti was undecided whether to give Wise Dan another breeze before the one-mile Fourstardave.
"I just wanted to do something easy with him," said LoPresti, who trains the 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding for owner Morton Fink. "I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I didn't want to take him to the turf again. I just wanted a nice, easy work for him, just something to keep him ticking over to next week."
LoPresti said he wasn't concerned about the time of the work but is more focused on how Wise Dan is coming into his return to Saratoga. Wise Dan began his seven-race win streak, which includes five grade I victories, in last year's Fourstardave.
"He's perfect," LoPresti said. "He could have gone so much faster, but we didn't want him to do that. He did that last week. That was the work that prepared him for this race. This was just something to tick him over."
Also on the worktab for the Fourstardave was King Kreesa, who will step up in class off wins in the July 4 Poker Stakes (gr. IIIT) and June 1 Kingston Stakes for New York-breds, both at Belmont Park.
With Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard, King Kreesa breezed four furlongs on the Oklahoma turf course in :47.29 in company with stablemate The Big Deluxe.
"It was a nice breeze, and Irad was real happy with him," said trainer Jeremiah Englehart. "He puts a lot into his training, so I wasn't too worried about him needing to get a lot out of the work."
Owned by Gerald and Susan Kresa, King Kreesa set the pace for both his 2 1/4-length Kingston victory and 1 1/2-length Poker triumph. Although King Kreesa was on the lead in those races, Englehart believes the 4-year-old King Cugat gelding doesn't need it and will let the gelding race wherever he is most comfortable in the Fourstardave.
"He's much more mature in his races this year; he allows Irad to settle him," said Englehart. "The trainer in me wants to believe he can race off the pace, but everybody has been telling me he does his best when he races on the lead. I'm a little biased, but I think he'll be OK just off the pace. I'd be stupid to say I know he'll be fine racing off the pace, so we'll just let him do his thing."
Englehart acknowledges that the Fourstardave will be a stern test for King Kreesa, a four-time stakes winner with a 5-3-2 record from 14 starts.
"I have a lot of respect for what Wise Dan has accomplished," said Englehart. "The nice thing about horse racing is that there are a lot of variables, and we feel like this is our time to take a chance."
Among those likely to join King Kreesa in challenging Wise Dan are Lea, runner-up to the Horse of the Year in the June 29 Firecracker (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs last time out; Mr. Commons, fifth as the favorite over "good" turf in an optional claimer at the Spa on July 24; Skyring, most recently sixth in the July 6 United Nations (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park; and Za Approval, second in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) last time out. Willyconker is questionable, according to NYRA stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes.
Trainer John Shirreffs said he is looking forward to running Mr. Commons in the Fourstardave based on how the 5-year-old exited his fifth-place finish in an optional claiming race on July 24 at Saratoga.
"He's eating well, he's training great, the rider is commenting that he came out of that race with a lot of energy," said Shirreffs Aug. 3. "It looks like this next race should be really good."
A two-time grade II winner on the turf, Mr. Commons finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Seal Cove in the optional claimer. It was Mr. Commons' first start since the St. George Farm Racing color-bearer finished third in the Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT) in April at Keeneland. The 5-year-old son of Artie Schiller was scratched out of the Jaipur (gr. IIIT) in June at Belmont after the race was transferred to the main track.
"His last race was a good comeback race, probably better than his placing indicated," said Shirreffs. "I'm looking forward to running him. He needed a race—he had one work in a month (a four-furlong breeze July 17 at Belmont). We had a lot of bad weather and the timing was never right, but the nice thing is he came out of this race really well. He recovered quickly. The whole point of the allowance race was to get him ready for the Fourstardave. We knew he would need a prep race."
Shirreffs added that he wants Mr. Commons to get an outside trip in the Fourstardave.
"When those horses came outside of him (in the July 24 race) he didn't really like that," he remarked. "If we can get the outside and make a run, I think he'll do very well."