Photo: Terri Cage
I can close my eyes and see the San Gabriel Mountains. With
them as a backdrop, I can place several memories from my time spent at the
Breeders’ Cup in front of them: Wise Dan
grazing, the sky lightening as horses exercised on the track in the morning, horses
racing down the backstretch, and winners and losers galloping past the stands
as they receive applause from the crowd no matter where they finished.
The 2013 Breeders’ Cup was one of the greatest experiences of my life –
perhaps even the most amazing to date. I have now been to four Breeders’ Cups
and the moments from this year’s championships that are now fond memories place
this Breeders’ Cup as the most wondrous experience I have ever had at the
racetrack. I have since returned home and must focus my attention on homework
rather than a track program and top-class Thoroughbreds, but my mind tends to
wander to the many great personal moments that occurred at the Breeders’ Cup.
There are too many amazing moments from my 2013 Breeders’ Cup experience to
describe in one post, so please enjoy my series highlighting these moments, one
by one, over the next several days.
Highlight One: Wise Dan
Although my experience at the 2013 Breeders’ Cup is abounding with
highlights, my time spent with Wise Dan is by far and away the greatest of them
all. Before launching into the story of my Wise Dan adventures, I would like to
extend my gratitude to Bill Casner and Charlie LoPresti, who made my time with
Wise Dan possible.
After being introduced to Charlie LoPresti, I followed him into an old barn
situated on the backside of Santa Anita Park, where he led me – and a handful
of other people – to a stall. Looking in, I caught my breath at the sight of
the copper-colored horse standing in the box. The Thoroughbred was relaxed,
resting a hind leg and allowing his ears to flop laterally as he struggled to
keep his eyes open. The window at the back of his stall cast a beam of sunlight
over his back, offering him warmth in the brisk air of the morning. Those
outside his stall spoke of him in admiration and respect, but he paid no
attention to these mere humans. They could look at him in awe all they wanted;
he was used to it.
I stepped closer to the stall guard that separated me from the 2012 Horse of
the Year, attempting to convince myself that I was not dreaming. Suddenly, Wise
Dan lifted his head, his liquid brown eyes meeting mine as he pricked his ears.
I blinked, star struck by the champion. As I stood admiring the famous
Thoroughbred, I listened in fascination to the stories about Wise Dan LoPresti
had to share – stories that made my love and respect for Wise Dan somehow become
Mary Cage with a resting Wise Dan
Photo by Terri Cage
An hour later, I returned to the barn minutes before the 6-year-old gelded son
of Wiseman’s Ferry emerged from the darkness of the barn into the warm morning
sunlight. As I focused my eyes upon the three-time Eclipse Award winner, I
watched as Wise Dan was led around the small dirt oval between barns before
LoPresti gave regular exercise rider, Damien Rock, a leg up onto the defending
Breeders’ Cup Mile victor.
Joining in the entourage that followed Wise Dan to the track, I joined Charlie
LoPresti in the grandstand as Wise Dan completed his gallop around Santa Anita’s
turf course, my eyes centered on the champion during his expedition around the
oval. A return to the barn gave me several minutes to soak in the sight of Wise
Dan before me, watching him cool out beneath the California sunshine to the
clicking of cameras, stopping frequently to pose. A horse with a commanding
presence, Wise Dan exuded confidence, walking along with easy strides as if he
was on a walk in the park.
Photo by Terri Cage
That afternoon, I watched as Wise Dan schooled in the paddock and the next
morning, I focused my eyes upon the reigning Horse of the Year as he jogged
over the dirt track in the dark one day before his defense of his Breeders’ Cup
Mile title. An invite from Charlie LoPresti to come by the barn again allowed
me to get up-close and personal with Wise Dan yet again, watching him cool out
before the San Gabriel Mountains as the sky grew lighter.
My time spent with Wise Dan at the 2013 Breeders’ Cup came to a perfect ending.
After locking my eyes upon him in the saddling paddock before the Breeders’ Cup
Mile, I returned to my perch near the track, where I again focused my vision and
camera on the chestnut gelding the second he stepped onto the track. My nerves
were rising at a rapid pace and by the time he loaded into the gate, I could
My eyes did not leave Wise Dan throughout the running of the race; I was
entirely focused on the defending champion. The excitement grew when the horses
reached the homestretch and I abandoned my camera as Wise Dan emerged on the
outside, rallying as he strove to attain the lead.
“Come on, Dan!” I cheered, a wide smile stretching across my face and tears of
joy beginning to spring from my eyes as the chestnut raced to the front,
crossing the wire in triumph.
I ran to the winner’s circle, never losing my grin as I dashed through the
crowd to reach the winner’s enclosure. Already elated about Wise Dan’s victory,
the infectious joy emanating from the winner’s circle added to my happiness. An
abundance of people lined up before the Breeders’ Cup backdrop as Wise Dan
joined us, a coveted garland of purple and yellow flowers draped over his
I do not own Wise Dan. I did not train or breed him. But in that moment, I felt
as if I was part of his team. There I stood, in the winner’s circle with the
Horse of the Year after a Breeders’ Cup race – a moment that I had previously
thought would only happen in my dreams. However, the immense joy I felt was
only partially for this dream come true. The rest was for the connections of
Wise Dan – for his passionate owner Morton Fink, for his talented and fortunate rider Jose
Lezcano, for his dedicated exercise rider Damien Rock, for his hard-working
groom Reeve McGaughey, and, most of all, for his incredibly kind and hospitable
trainer Charlie LoPresti.
The connections of Wise Dan celebrate his victory
Photo by Mary Cage