Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
As much as I do not want to admit it, I have fallen behind on
following horse racing in recent months despite the fact that the sport is my
passion. For several years now, I have devoted endless amount of time keeping
up with racing, but during one of the busiest, toughest, and most exciting
years of my life, I have begun to lose touch with the sport. I have been
distracted by finishing high school, starting college, preparing for and
competing at horse shows, and friends. While all of these things are important,
I no longer want situations and activities to prevent me from devoting time to
I had recognized that I was unintentionally distancing myself from horse
racing, but it was because of one horse that made me fully realize that I did
not want that to continue any longer – the same horse for which I have held a
strong admiration and love throughout his career. That horse is Wise Dan.
Like the remainder of the racing world, I have greatly respected Wise Dan for
quite some time now, but my love for the son of Wiseman’s Ferry goes beyond appreciation
for his achievements on the track. In a career that will surely land him in the
Hall of Fame one day, Wise Dan has easily become one of my all-time favorites,
thrilling me with his gutsy performances and will to win. But memories I carry
with me from a few days spent in Southern California last fall have formed even
more room for Wise Dan’s place in my heart.
In the days leading up to the 2013 Breeders’ Cup, Bill Casner – the owner of Well Armed who was formerly connected
with WinStar Farm – was kind enough to introduce me to Charlie LoPresti, Wise Dan’s trainer. LoPresti kindly took me in,
and in the mornings leading up to race day, I would stop by the barn to see
Wise Dan and watch him train.
It was as if I was living a dream, spending my mornings with the Horse of the
Year as LoPresti told me stories about the brilliant chestnut gelding. Standing
before the San Gabriel Mountains as pink and purple clouds were illuminated by
the rising sun, my admiration for Wise Dan and his team grew stronger. And just
when I thought my experience with Wise Dan could not get any better, it did.
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 hardly breathe.
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.
A day later, I returned home to Texas. Since the Breeders’ Cup, I have visited
the racetrack only a handful of times. The small amount of trips I have made to
the track is caused by two main reasons: a lack of nearby tracks, and a busy
schedule. As desperately as I wanted to go to the track, my time away from the
racetrack only furthered my distance from racing.
Just days after Wise Dan underwent emergency colic surgery in May, something
happened in my life that would greatly disturb me for several weeks - something
that still bothers me from time to time. This was a large distraction, but my
love for Wise Dan never wavered. While I failed to keep up with horse racing on
the same level as I have in years past, I closely followed news regarding Wise
Dan: updates on his health, workout reports, hints regarding his return to the
races, and any photos posted of the champion.
And on Saturday, August 30, the two-time Horse of the Year made his long-awaited
return to the races, facing eight others in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr.
II) on the turf at Saratoga. With the eyes of the racing world focused upon
him, Wise Dan sat off the pace beneath regular rider Johnny Velazquez. Sitting
before my living room television as I visited home for the first time since
leaving for college, I held my breath as my eyes focused on Wise Dan.
I felt my heart swell as Wise Dan fought off the charge of Optimizer down the
stretch, laying it all on the line as he strove to attain victory. When he
faced colic, Wise Dan overcame an illness that easily could have taken his
life. When he faced competition for the first time in months, Wise Dan overcame
the threats of his rivals in order to capture the win. Perhaps it was because I love to
find cheesy messages in life’s happenings, or maybe it was because I was
looking for an excuse to rediscover pure happiness, but as Wise Dan’s nose
crossed the wire first in the Bernard Baruch, I realized that Wise Dan had conquered
a situation that is impossible for some. Who’s to say I can’t do the same?
Yes, I am an eighteen-year-old college freshman inspired by a horse. But how
can you not be inspired by a horse like Wise Dan, a Thoroughbred that does not
give up and gives everything his all? I never left horse racing, but I would be
lying if I said I had not somewhat neglected it in recent months. But Wise Dan
was just the reminder I needed to dive right back in. And for that, along with many other reasons, Wise Dan will always have a special place in my heart.