December 2013 | Wise Dan Rolls in BC Mile, Awaits Another HOTY
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Wise Dan Rolls in BC Mile, Awaits Another HOTY

December 2013 - Terry Conway

There was a lot of chirping this summer and fall surrounding Wise Dan and his connections’ unwillingness to tackle tougher foes and longer distances such as in the mile-and-quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic. If he’s such a dominant horse, the pundits carped, let’s see him challenge the heavy hitters.

His connections-- owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti-- didn’t waver. Their convictions paid off when Wise Dan stormed down the middle of the turf course defending his crown in the $2 Million BC Mile at Santa Anita Park on November 2. The victory should propel the six-year old gelding to a second consecutive Horse of the Year title at the Eclipse Awards in January. Wise Dan is a son of Wiseman’s Ferry who is based at Dana Point Farm in tiny Lenhartsville, Pa.

In the BC Mile, Wise Dan tumbled out of the gate, almost falling to his knees. Jose Lezcano, who picked up the reins from injured Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, had to go three wide around the final turn and four wide into the stretch. Still, Wise Dan stormed down the turf course running down Za Approval in the late stretch to capture the race by three-quarters of a length.

“For all the people that thought he lost a step, he sure didn’t lose a step,” LoPresti declared. “He overcame a lot today. He's the best horse in the world. Awards don't matter to me and I don't want to hear anyone talk again about him going on dirt, mile and a quarter or anything."

Indeed, Wise Dan is truly a great horse. Boasting an amazing cruising speed, he runs down his rivals, and does it in machine-like fashion. Winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic would be superlative, but his connections have found Wise Dan’s niche in life. Wise Dan has dominated the turf mile like no other American horse before him. He is no less a great horse than Euro milers Frankel and Goldikova and sprinter Black Caviar.

Wise Dan is a throwback to the age of John Henry, and Forego and Kelso, geldings that only have value on the racetrack, so they keep on racing and excelling. For folks who say racehorses really don’t know where the finish line is, take a good and hard look at relentless Wise Dan. He has finished ahead of all but one of his opponents in his six races this year. Before that loss, he had won nine consecutive races dating to August 2012, five of them Grade I starts, including last year when he ran the fastest Mile--  1 minute 31.78 seconds-- in the 29-year history of the Breeders’ Cup.

In early October Wise Dan’s nine-race win streak came to an end at Keeneland in the $750,000 Shadwell Stakes when Silver Max defeated him by a length and quarter. The race was moved to the main track after a torrential downpour. Without rain, it is likely there would have been a far different outcome. And Wise Dan would have been unbeaten in two years of racing.

Roll these names around. Secretariat. Forego. Affirmed. John Henry. Cigar. And Curlin. Come January, Wise Dan will likely join those legendary six as the only horses to win more than one Horse of the Year title since the Eclipse Awards began in 1972.

Wise Dan’s 19 career victories are the same number as Cigar’s, and more than Curlin or Secretariat, and his $6.2 million in earnings put him fourth among the seven behind Curlin’s $10.5 million, Cigar’s $9.99 million, and John Henry’s $6.59 million, but more than Secretariat, Forego, and Affirmed combined to win in the 1970s. Wise Dan’s seven Grade 1 victories in 2012 and 2013 are equal to what Curlin posted in 2007 and 2008.

LoPresti has a small stable in Kentucky and the best horse in America. Wise Dan became the fourth horse to score back-to-back victories in the Mile. There is no talk of retirement for a horse that simply loves to run and loves to win.

“What he does for the fans and what he does for us, all my team that’s worked with him,” LoPresti said. “He is just a dream come true.”

The trainer paused and added, “I hope he is around for a lot more years.”

BC Classic
The story of Mucho Macho Man has all the makings of a Hollywood film.  Set against a backdrop of the gorgeous San Gabriel mountains cast red by the setting sun, Mucho Macho Man crafted a perfect movie ending to a heart-warming tale by desperately holding off Will Take Charge running on the outside and Declaration of War charging up the middle to win America's richest race, the $5 Million Breeders' Cup Classic, by a nose.

Trainer Kathy Ritvo was told five years ago she needed a heart transplant. By the time her doctors found a donor she had just weeks to live. Ritvo survived the transplant and returned to her horses. Jockey Gary Stevens had been retired for seven years before he returned to the saddle this year. Not much was going right until he won the Preakness and then big wins piled up. At age 50, an ex-actor and broadcaster, it was Stevens’ first Breeders' Cup Classic score. He thanked Ritvo after the race for "making an old man very happy".

For Ritvo the success marked her as the first woman to train a winner of the Classic - and the unlikely duo did it with a horse that had been thought dead at birth.

After a subpar spring Much Macho Man spent time at the Fair Hill Training Center getting R&R and jumpstarting his racing career. He finished an impressive third in the Whitney Handicap and then scored in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita to add a Grade-1 win to his resume. A close second in the 2012 Breeders' Cup, in this year’s Classic Mucho Macho Man had the pace, the ideal racing style, a penchant for the course and he was peaking at just the right time. In a classic Stevens’ tactic, at the head of the stretch he went for it, opened up by three lengths and held on, barely.

Will Take Charge won the Travers in Saratoga and came to Parx in September. He won the Pennsylvania Derby and six weeks later nearly won the Classic, falling short by a nose.

“I realize the ups and downs of the sport better than probably most, but defeats like that are hard to take,” D. Wayne Lukas lamented after the race. “This is the ultimate. Other than the Derby, this is the one you want.”

Switching the Pennsylvania Derby from Labor Day to the third Saturday in September a few years back always made sense in relationship to the timing of the Classic. Just how right will be proved when Will Take Charge is named 3-year-old champion.

Paynter’s final race was the Classic where he finished seventh. He nearly died last year after he was stricken with colitis, laminitis, a swelling of the large intestine and a fever. He lost 200 pounds. He came to Fair Hill for six weeks of aftercare stabled in Bruce Jackson’s barn. Not only did he survive, he lived to race again. Paynter’s story continues as he heads off to stud at Winstar Farm. Paynter won four of 10 career starts for $1,101,924. Fort Larned, the winner of the 2012 BC Classic and a son of PA-based stallion E Dubai, finished fourth and has been retired to Adena Springs.

Clock Strikes Midnight for Princess
Born and raised at Sylmar Farm near Oxford, Pa, Princess of Sylmar had won four straight Grade I stakes from May through September, establishing herself as the top 3-year-old filly in the country. After the filly’s win in the Beldame at Belmont Park, her majority owner Ed Stanco was not going to the BC Distaff. The filly had career earnings of $1.6 million.

“She’s a gift, a blessing, and we treat her that way,” he said. “Hopefully, she has a lot of racing in her next year. We’re here to race. We don’t get into any of this return on investment. I think she’s done enough in her division. She’s done it all, and then she won against the top older females.”

Then Stanco and his partners had a change of heart and paid a supplementary entry fee of $100,000 and shipped her to run in the Distaff.

Princess of Sylmar had virtually clinched the 3-year-old filly championship. The only way she could mess it up: compete in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and lose.  After eight races in 2013, the Princess came up empty at Santa Anita. Her powerful stretch run never materialized and she struggled home a badly beaten sixth. Odds are the winner Beholder will earn the Eclipse.

After the race Stanco surprisingly downplayed the Eclipse Award which significantly boosts the value of any horse in the marketplace.

"We thought a lot about that, what’s her value? What’s the Eclipse worth to us?” Stanco said. “But we decided that the value of the Eclipse is secondary in this situation. She’s racing for history here, and we’re not giving up that opportunity."

Galloping Out
Orb, the winner of this year's Kentucky Derby, has been retired and will stand for $25,000 for a live foal at Claiborne Farm in Lexington, Ky. in 2014. Orb, who spent the summer at Bruce Jackson’s barn at Fair Hill, earned $2,612,516, with five wins in 12 starts.

Orb had been under consideration to start in the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on November 30 but his Hall of Fame trainer, Shug McGaughey, stressed last week those plans were "in pencil."

"The decision to retire Orb was made with mixed emotions," co-owner Stuart Janney related. "While I believe he would have had a very successful 4-year-old campaign, and Phipps Stable and I would have loved being a part of that, Orb is a wonderful stallion prospect. We look forward to supporting him and to racing his offspring."

Rick Porter’s Grade-1 winner Hard Spun will stand the 2014 breeding season at Darley Stud in Hokkaido, Japan. The nine-year-old son of Danzig began his stallion career in 2008, and has stood his entire Northern Hemisphere career at Darley’s Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Ky. Owned by Sheikh Mohammed, Hard Spun has sired three crops of racing age, led by Questing, champion 3-year-old filly of 2012.

Hard Spun already has several stakes winners in the Western Hemisphere, having shuttled from Darley’s U.S. and Australian farms since the beginning of his stallion career. Hard Spun joins Admire Moon, Deep Sky, Furioso, King’s Best, Pyro, and Storming Home on the Darley Japan stallion roster.

Bred in Malvern, Pa. by Michael Moran and Betty Moran’s Brushwood Stable, Hard Spun is out of the Grade-2 placed stakes-winning Turkoman mare Turkish Tryst. Hard Spun retired with seven wins in 13 career starts for earnings of $2,673,470 racing for Porter’s Fox Hill Farms and trainer Larry Jones.

Contact Pennsylvania Equestrian horseracing writer Terry Conway at tconway@terryconway.net.