Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer
Reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan leads a phenomenal Sunday card of racing at Woodbine that includes two Grade 1 races and four Graded Stakes events in all. From top to bottom, it has the look of the type of race card that is truly a sight for sore eyes.
[Get TimeformUS Past Performances for Sunday at Woodbine]
Due to eye problems, I may be unable to provide much in the way of trip handicapping, but my trusty and colorful TimeformUS Past Performances will make handicapping this race card as pleasurable as it could possibly be given the circumstances.
Even though the Woodbine Mile might be the least attractive betting race on Sunday's entire card, it will be the focus for us because of the celebrity of Wise Dan. In plain English, Wise Dan should dominate this group. In recent races, he's been victimized by heavy weight imposts and huge weight concessions. On Sunday, he concedes only three to seven pounds in weight to his five challengers. We have previously voiced our displeasure with the unadventurous campaign chosen for the mighty Wise Dan by his connections this year. Instead of attempting to achieve heroic things on other surfaces, trainer Charles LoPresti is instead focused on keeping his superstar gelding undefeated this year.
"Our biggest goal this year is to keep him undefeated, and this race seems to make the most sense," LoPresti told Jack Shinar of Bloodhorse.
Obviously LoPresti is right. Wise Dan is top class on every surface, but the competition always figures to be a whole lot easier in North American turf races.
Our breeding program places heavy emphasis on dirt racing. Manila might be the best North American turf horse I've ever studied. He would run sensational races with exceptional speed figures. He was never once defeated in his five Grade 1 Stakes attempts, and he won the deepest Breeders' Cup Turf edition in history, as a three-year-old, over a field that included Theatrical, Estrapade, and English superhorse Dancing Brave. Yes, Manila is in the Hall of Fame at Saratoga, but only after countless years of being passed over. It took seemingly forever for Manila to win enshrinement because he was a turf specialist.
And if you think some of the American press are a bit dismissive of our own grass racing, that feeling is certainly magnified overseas. This is what Sam Walker of Racing Post wrote about Wise Dan's 2013 campaign:
“U.S. turf racing is second tier. It doesn’t take a great horse to excel in that division and the situation is nothing like being the best miler in Europe or the best sprinter in Australia.” Walker continues, “Being the best turf horse in America is like being the best harness, quarter horse or show pony. It’s commendable but largely irrelevant in racing circles unless you also happen to be top class on dirt.”
I agree with the point Walker makes, as horse racing here will always be about dirt racing first. But this stuff goes both ways. There have been countless European turf horses, with no real dirt breeding to speak of, who have come over and flopped miserably on dirt. Think of a horse like Dylan Thomas. I remember trying to keep a straight face when it was suggested that he would be competitive with Bernardini at ten furlongs on dirt in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Dylan Thomas struggled every step of the way, and was beaten over 32 lengths by Bernardini, who won so easily you'd have thought his jockey Javier Castellano was suffering from rigor mortis.
Dylan Thomas returned home and accomplished some splendid things, winning the Cartier Racing Award as the European Horse of the Year the following season.
Nothing can change the course of Wise Dan's campaign now. Let us enjoy him the best we can against the likes of Za Approval and Trade Storm on Sunday. I don't believe Wise Dan can be beaten in the Woodbine Mile, but if anyone can do it, it's probably the European raider Trade Storm.
Trade Storm was a good fourth in the $5,000,000 Dubai Duty Free earlier in the year. He had to overcome a tough post position, starting from the 14-hole. The eventual second-place finisher in the race, The Apache, would later cross the wire first in the Arlington Million but was disqualified for interference in deep stretch. Most importantly, Trade Storm gets first time lasix on Sunday, and it sure seems like the European raiders who get lasix generally perform better than the ones who don't.
Because a battle with pink eye has rendered me too blind to go back and watch a replay of Trade Storm's race in the Dubai Duty Free, here is the Timeform detailed prospective of it that appears in the TimeformUS past performances.
"Another who's been thriving here of late, shaped as if still in good form from the worst of the draw; dropped out, had to weave way through straight, finished strongly having been left with bit to do; he's one to keep onside."