They saved the best for last. As the sun began to slip below the majestic San Gabriel Mountains, a pair of colts produced by Pennsylvania-based stallions stole the show on racing’s grandest day.
In the performance of his life, Fort Larned grabbed the lead out of the gate and bravely held off Mucho Macho Man in a scintillating stretch drive to prevail in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by a half-length on November 3. It was another 6 1/2 lengths back to Flat Out in third in the 1 1/4-mile race at Santa Anita Park. Fort Larned earned a sensational 117 Beyer speed figure.
Fort Larned is a four-year old son of E Dubai who stands at Northview Stallion Station in Peach Bottom, PA. E Dubai’s 2012 stud fee was $9,000. In winning the Classic (odds of 10-1) Fort Larned earned $2.7 million, increasing his bankroll to $3,681,236. As for E Dubai, he ranks in the top 10 nationally in 2012 with progeny earnings in excess of $7.5 million. His single season progeny earnings this year make him the richest North American stallion ever to stand outside of Kentucky.
Wise Dan capped a remarkable 2012 season with a powerful win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile in the race prior to the Classic. He set a course record of 1:31.78--a mark that had stood for 15 years-- and was only .5 seconds off the world record. He defeated a stellar field that included fourth-place Excelebration and eighth-place Moonlight Cloud, the two best milers in Europe.
The 5-year-old chestnut gelding also stamped himself as the likely favorite for 2012 Horse of the Year honors. He is a son of Wiseman Ferry who is based at Dana Point Farm in Lenhartsville, Pa. and whose 2012 stud fee was a scant $3,500.
“That was a jaw-dropping performance,” said Dana Point manager Marie Vorhauer. “I’ve always believed in Wiseman Ferry even when others didn’t. I’m so happy for the shareholders that stuck with him. He is a good looking, well put together horse. It shows you don’t need to spend a million to get a really talented horse. It’s just what the industry needed.”
Under a perfect ride from John Velazquez, Wise Dan beat fast-closing Animal Kingdom by 1 1/2 lengths in the $2 million Mile. He blistered the turf course in a 1:31.78, lowering the track record of 1:31.89 set by Atticus in 1989 while carrying nine pounds more.
Wise Dan collared Obviously about a furlong from the finish and rolled to victory. Behind Wise Dan, things went less smoothly for 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who was steadied in traffic at the top of the stretch. Once clear, he rocketed home in the final sixteenth of mile, beating Obviously for second by a half-length.
The two-day world championship--15 races and $25 million in purses-- spotlighted former Chester County steeplechase rider and Delaware Park jockey Rosie Napravnik who joined Julie Krone as the only female jockeys to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Napravnik piloted favorite Shanghai Bobby to a head victory over He’s Had Enough in the $2 million BC Juvenile. The colt won all five of his starts, including Saratoga’s Champagne Stakes and likely will be touted as the favorite in 2013 Derby Futures book.
Questing (8-1), a 3-year-old Hard Spun filly bred by Darley in Great Britain, was eased in the BC Ladies' Classic. When the filly returned to the barn that evening, her eye was swollen shut.
"Fortunately, it was fine the following morning,” Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said. “We're not sure what happened, but she seemed fine going to the post, so you would have to assume something happened in the starting gate. It's really a shame, because the race would have set up perfectly for her, with her speed and the way the track was playing, favoring speed. She was coming up to the race in fantastic shape."
Northview had a big day on Saturday. In addition to Wise Dan, Rail Trip, a colt by Jump Start, finished runner-up the $1 million BC Dirt Mile. In the $500,000 BC Marathon, Not Abroad, by Not For Love was fifth.
Fort Larned led every step of the way in the Classic that was televised in prime time for the first time. Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. celebrated his first Breeders' Cup win on his 27th birthday.
"I always had a lot of confidence in Fort Larned,” Hernandez noted. "Trainer Ian (Wilkes) and I talked about the race and he told me don't take him out of his game and let him do whatever he wants to do. He has a good cruising speed and I just let him go."
“I knew we were good when he broke sharp,” Wilkes added. “That's where Brian (Hernandez) won the race. We took it to 'em. We had to, because there were some good closers in there. I really thought they'd go that fast, because that track is a little fast, speed-biased. I said to Brian, 'We can't leave anything on the table. We have to lay our body on the line.' And he did it for us."
Fort Larned was two for ten in 2011. Outfitted with a set of blinkers this year, he reeled off wins in five stakes and ran five Beyer speed figures of 108 or better, climaxing with the eye-popping 117 in the BC Mile. Wilkes and owner-breeder Janis Whitham are hoping to return to Santa Anita next fall for the 30th World Championships in 2013. Fort Larned will get a break and then go to Gulfstream Park for the winter.
Wise Dan’s first trip to southern California was delayed by one day by super-storm Sandy, but he arrived three days before his race without incident and trained briskly. Modestly bred, trained by low-profile Charlie Lopresti, Wise Dan posted a versatile and consistent campaign, but this year he established himself as a turf monster by scoring three consecutive Grade-1 victories at one mile on the grass.
In the Santa Anita paddock Wise Dan looked spectacular and was relaxed and poised. When Morton Fink's homebred gelding hit the track Wise Dan ran to his looks.
"I just wanted to get him in the right position," said jockey Velazquez said. "When I was able to do that, and you've got a horse as good as this, you can expect a result like this."
"He proved he was the best horse today. I never had any doubts," added Lopresti. "I was just a little concerned about how the race would shape up. He's just a special horse."
He’s as versatile as they come. If you go back to last November, Wise Dan has a Grade 1 win on dirt, the fastest Beyer in history on artificial (117), and three straight Grade 1 wins at a mile on the grass. He was a diminishing head short on the dirt in the Stephen Foster Stakes of a perfect six-for-six season.
Dana Point Fans
Among those rooting the loudest every time Wise Dan hits the track is the gang from Dana Point Farm. Wiseman’s Ferry, a son of Hennessy, has routinely been among the state’s leading stallions since relocating from Castleton Lyons to Dana Point in 2009. On the racing side Wiseman Ferry was stakes placed at 2 in Ireland and won the West Virginia and Lonestar Derbies at 3.
His son Wise Dan would be the first gelding to win Horse of the Year in 28 years.
That’s music to the ears of Dana Point. Wiseman Ferry is booked full to the end of December, 65 mares total. They made the decision a week before the Breeders’ Cup to bump up his stud fee up $1,500 to $5,000.
“We wanted to get a good quality book of mares to the horse,” said Dana Point’s Vorhauer. “The phone has been ringing off the hook. It’s going to put Wiseman Ferry on a different level. We’ve got 19 two-year olds getting ready to run here in Pennsylvania. The best is yet to come.”
Wise Dan can trace his bloodlines back to 1973 Triple Crown winner and two-time Horse of the Year Secretariat, who is the grandsire of his dam Lisa Danielle. Like Wise Dan she was owned and campaigned by Morton Fink.
"He has so much raw talent, people don't even realize how much talent he has," remarked low-key trainer Charles Lopresti, who only has about 20 horses in training.
"Every time I work him or do something with him, I see something different, something more exciting. I mean, how much faster can you run than that? I don't think they run faster than that.”
Plans for 5-year-old Wise Dan include spending the winter at the Lopresti farm, where the gelding spent the last two winters before returning to the races the following April at Keeneland. With Frankel retired, it would be nice to see Wise Dan journey to Europe next year to prove his class outside America.
"He will probably get 45 to 60 days at the farm, but it is up to him," said Lopresti. "Our goal is to have the horse at his best toward the mid- to late-summer and the fall for the big races."
Animal Kingdom, the champion 3-year-old in 2011, was making his first start since February 18 when he fractured his pelvis. That is a layoff of 259 days. Trainer Graham Motion decided to run him in the Mile without a prep race, training the horse at Fair Hill on the steeplechase course, which has a steady incline from the quarter pole, Campaigned by Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International, it was his second start in 16 months.
"I thought about this back in May and Barry and I talked about it," Motion related. “Then as we got closer to the race I started to think maybe it was a little crazy, but Barry reassured me that we were OK.”
This fall Animal Kingdom’s professionalism caught up to his imposing physique. Stuck in traffic for most of the BC Mile turf race, the 4-year old son of Leroidesanimaux sprung free late and stormed down the deep stretch passing some standout performers to finish a length-and-a-half shy of Wise Dan. Kudos to Motion on a brilliant training job.
"Seconds are tough. I've had some tough beats in the Breeders' Cup," Motion related. "This is one of them. I'm thrilled with the way our horse ran. If he doesn't get steadied at the top of the stretch, maybe it makes a difference. What a great run. He’s the best horse I’ve ever trained. He’s exceptional.”
The acceleration Animal Kingdom showed in the last sixteen of a mile was spectacular. Irwin and Motion are known for thinking "out of the box," so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him racing both in America and Europe on a grass, dirt and synthetic surfaces in 2013.
If this horse can stay healthy, he is going to have a huge, huge 2013.
Terry Conway is the longtime racing writer for the Pennsylvania Equestrian, contact him at email@example.com