Wiseman Ferry's son Wise Dan, shown here winning last fall's Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, returns to that track this weekend for his first start of 2013 (Photo courtesy Keeneland).
Ears pricked, eyes focused, a cavalcade of future thoroughbred stars prance up the tree-lined lane and down to the famous Ballydoyle gallops. Beyond the gallops the Galtee mountains soar. From this training center in Tipperary County legendary trainers named O'Brien have sent out winners of eight Epsom Derbys, and every other race in Europe worth winning.
When Wiseman's Ferry hit those gallops in 2001 he was joined by precocious juveniles by the names of Rock of Gibraltar, Landseer and Johannesburg. Another companion that spring was Galileo who would go on to establish himself as the best three-year old in Europe.
These days Galileo is recognized as the premiere stallion in the world. He sired champions, both male and female, like he was delivering the morning paper. His 2009 stud fee was $225,000 and in both 2012 and 2013, his fee was listed as "private" by Coolmore, an honor shared by his sire Sadler's Wells.
For Wiseman's Ferry, not so much. It's been a long and winding journey to redemption. Bred in Kentucky, a handsome son of Hennessy, Wiseman's Ferry was sent to Ballydoyle and raced as a 2-year old in the dark blue silks of Mrs. John Magnier. Racing in top-flight Irish competition Wiseman's Ferry turned out to be a cut below Ballydoyle's elite runners. He was sold to an American racing syndicate where as he became a two-time American graded stakes winner during his 3-year old season.
Wiseman's Ferry started his stud career in New York, moved to Kentucky for the 2006 season with little fanfare and has stood at Gayle Gerth's Dana Point Farm in Pennsylvania since 2009. Deemed an unfashionable Pennsylvania-based stallion by most breeders, the stud fee for Wiseman's Ferry was a modest $3,500 in 2012.
All that changed last year with the brilliance of his son Wise Dan.
Blessed with an effortless stride and added maturity the versatile chestnut gelding snagged two track records in capturing five of six races (the lone loss a head bob), earning more than $3.5 million in 2012. Freaky fast, Wise Dan wrapped up his season with a brilliant turn of foot in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita Park in a course-record time of 1:31.78.
At the Eclipse Awards ceremony in January Wise Dan swept three categories- the coveted Horse of the Year, Older Male, and Male Turf Horse - becoming the first horse to do so since the great John Henry in 1981.
Six-year old Wise Dan is slated to make his 2013 debut in $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile on Friday, April 12.
Among those rooting the loudest every time Wise Dan hits the track is the gang from Dana Point Farm. A retired successful businesswoman from Dana Point, Calif., Gayle Gerth followed her dream by purchasing a former Morgan show horse farm in tiny Lenhartsville, Pa (pop. 165) in 2008. It is one of a number of thoroughbred operations that have set up shop in the Keystone state reflecting the impact of Pennsylvania's breeder incentives and the state's burgeoning racing industry. Simply put, Gerth saw a good return on investment. The 98-acre Dana Point is 20 miles west of Allentown.
Named after a historic river crossing in New South Wales, Australia, the emergence of Wiseman's Ferry on the national stage was no surprise to Dana Point's general manager Maria Vorhauer. It was what Wiseman's Ferry had been capable of all along-- getting a top-class runner that can dominate on any surface.
“A lot of people dismissed the horse when he left Kentucky," Vorhauer recounted. "But we always believed. I've loved him since he was in New York. He's so well bred and produces such a beautiful foal that's very correct, very good looking. He has a great mind. They tend to be late maturing which isn't fashionable these days. The key is to be patient with them. These horses are sound, and they get better as they get older."
Bred in Kentucky by Nursery Place and Robert T. Manfuso, Wiseman's Ferry began his racing career for Coolmore in Ireland where he won his debut race over six furlongs at Cork in May 2001. His coat a rich chestnut, Wiseman's Ferry's best showing was runner-up to Johannesburg-- one of a vintage crop of Ballydoyle 2-year olds-- in the Group 3 Three Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh.
Clearly not on par with their top juveniles, Coolmore elected to sell Wiseman's Ferry to the partnership of Swifty Farms, Dell Ridge, and Morton Fink. They put the colt in training with Niall O'Callaghan. As a three-year-old, Wiseman's Ferry captured a wire-to-wire victory in the $500,000 Lone Star Derby and won the $600,000 West Virginia Derby, both Grade-3 events, and was beaten by only a neck in the Grade-2 $300,000 Ohio Derby.
He only ran twice as a 4-year old in 2003 with a second place in a minor race. Wiseman's Ferry injured a fetlock in a morning work and was retired to stud at Empire Farm in New York. He had scored four wins in sixteen starts and collected career earnings of $825,266.
Since relocating from Castleton Lyons to Dana Point in November 2008, Wiseman's Ferry has been among Pennsylvania's leading stallions each year. Gerth owns 51 percent of Wiseman's Ferry, with the syndicate owning the rest. Fink is among the shareholders.
Out of stakes winner Emmaus, by Silver Deputy, Wiseman's Ferry is lengthy and very strongly muscled, with the power and reach typical of the Storm Cat line. In 2012 Wiseman's Ferry stood for $3,500, covering 32 mares. This year it's $5,000 and he's booked to nearly 100 mares. He scores high marks for fertility in addition to being well behaved in the breeding shed, says Vorhauer.
“This is his best book of mares so we're expecting good things," Vorhauer related. "We're so grateful for Castleton Lyons trusting in us and giving us the opportunity, frankly that's why we're here. And to all of the shareholders that stayed in and believed in this horse. We appreciate that."
Wise Dan is not a one man band. The same 2007 crop produced Grade-2 winner Ride the River, a finalist for the 2012 Sovereign Award in Canada's champion male turf horse. He has lifetime earnings of $682,800. Other top performers include southern hemisphere champions Wiseman's Cure and Lallera Maoyorr.
Wiseman's Ferry has sired 253 foals of racing age with 205 making it to the track. Of those 205 runners, 160 have won including six stakes winners.
Through 2012 Wiseman had progeny earnings of $13,907,684 and career average earnings per starter of $67,513, thanks to Wise Dan.
Both Wise Dan and Riding the River were unraced at age 2, scoring stakes win at ages 3 and 5.
It takes time and patience with these horses and Charlie Lopresti (trainer of Wise Dan) took his time and placed him where he belonged," Vorhauer noted. "With maturity they get better and better. It might be a lesson to others to follow Charlie's path."
In January Vorhauer missed out on going the Eclipse Awards tending to Dana Point's first foal of 2013. They expect a total of 20. Vorhauer will foal them all.
"I'm still living a fantasy, you know sometimes you wake up and you want to slap yourself," Vorhauer joked. "I hope folks can see that it's not an impossible dream. We're the little engine that could. What we believed really did work out."