Wise Dan securing a repeat win in the Breeders' Cup Mile in November at Santa Anita Park. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Wise Dan, who closed another rousing season by repeating in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, led the parade of champions Saturday night at the 43rd annual Eclipse Awards Dinner by repeating as Horse of the Year.
“I think he deserves it and I’m not being biased,” trainer Charlie LoPresti said in an interview conducted before the ceremonies began at Gulfstream Park. “He’s been unbelievably consistent. Even when he got beat, he ran second.”
Nothing went the way of the Wiseman’s Ferry gelding when he suffered his lone defeat in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., last Oct. 5. Heavy rain forced the race to be moved from the turf to a Polytrack surface that did not drain as well as usual due to the severity of the storms.
“The surface change didn’t bother me as much as the track conditions,” LoPresti said of the only non-turf start last year. “I stable at Keeneland, and I’ve never seen the track hold so much water. He was running through water.”
Wise Dan was bumped before he was forced six wide. He could not quite get to Silver Max, a victor by 1 ¼ lengths. He redeemed himself by closing powerfully for jockey Jose Lezcano, a late replacement for regular rider John Velazquez, to take the Breeders’ Cup Mile by three-quarters of a length ahead of Za Approval with the talented Silentio in third. Velazquez was injured earlier in the Breeders’ Cup card and suffered internal bleeding that led to the removal of his spleen.
The Shadwell was the only blemish in a cautiously orchestrated campaign in which the gelding went 6-for-7 and brought home $2,751,432 in earnings for owner-breeder Morton Fink. His finest effort came when he blazed a course record of 1:31.75 in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.
WISE DAN WINNING WOODBINE MILE
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Will Take Charge and Mucho Macho Man were the other Horse of the Year finalists. Will Take Charge dramatically improved as he matured for trainer D. Wayne Lukas with three victories in his last four starts, those coming in the Grade 1 Travers, Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby and Grade 1 Clark Handicap. But it hurt his cause that he ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby, seventh in the Preakness and 10th in the Belmont Stakes and that he missed by a diminishing nose when Mucho Macho Man barely held on in the Classic.
Mucho Macho Man, who produced a gritty performance for Gary Stevens in the Classic, might have benefitted from a greater body of work. He won only the last two of his five starts, rolling by 4 ¼ lengths in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita Park, which proved to be an ideal prep for the Classic.
Wise Dan is the sixth horse to fashion consecutive Horse of the Year campaigns, joining Secretariat (1972-73), Forego (1974-76), Affirmed (1978-79), Cigar (1995-96) and Curlin (2007-08). The gallant Forego ranks as the only three-time champion.
Wise Dan swept the older male, turf male, and Horse of the Year titles at the Eclipse Awards in 2012 and 2013 and became the first horse ever to accomplish the feat twice.
WISE DAN: TITAN OF THE TURF
LoPresti and Fink are discussing a more ambitious 2014 campaign that might include the prestigious Arlington Million Stakes at Arlington Park near Chicago in mid-August while also providing some exposure to dirt racing.
LoPresti is as optimistic as ever that Wise Dan can retain his form at seven.
“I don’t see why not,” he said. “He left the racetrack this year as good as he did last year. He doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, but we won’t really know until he begins training again.”
For now, Wise Dan is enjoying a well-deserved vacation while LoPresti relishes the ride. “They come around once in a lifetime, these kinds of horses,” he said.