Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer
It’s both human and horseplayer nature to instantly react, label and categorize performances on the racetrack, especially when they include a Horse of the Year. In today’s “what have you done for me lately?” society, everything is pigeonholed with a reason why.
Wise Dan’s loss in the Shadwell this past weekend at Keeneland raised a lot of eyebrows and quick reactions on the various channels of horse racing including such silly claims as Wise Dan being “over the top” or compromised by a “speed bias.” Simply put, he was beat on the square by a horse who got loose on a clear early lead and ran his lungs out.
From a high level, Wise Dan’s loss on Saturday will make his bid for a repeat Horse of the Year title significantly tougher. Game on Dude and Princess of Sylmar now have the upper-hand in that race. On the other hand, it might also prime him for a repeat win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Lost The Prep, Won The Race
Contrary to the belief of many, sometimes it’s okay to lose. No, it’s not fun, but in horse racing a loss can set you up for bigger gains down the road as an owner or trainer and a horseplayer as well. In the context of the Breeders’ Cup, here are two examples...
Blame rose to the top of the handicap division rather quickly in 2010 and looked primed for a run at Horse of the Year until he was a victim of circumstances in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Haynesfield, who was 5-for-5 at Belmont Park, coasted on an uncontested lead posting a six furlong split of 1:13-1/5. It was game over for anyone looking to rally from off the pace as Haynesfield won by four lengths over Blame, who was two lengths clear of closer Fly Down.
In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the tables were turned. With a significantly stronger pace, Blame rallied to win beating Zenyatta by a head on the wire. Fly Down, who lost by six lengths in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, finished third. There were no easy leads for Haynesfield and he ended-up 11th beaten more than 22 lengths.
Last year, Trinniberg won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at 13-1 despite losing his prior race to 3-year-olds in the Gallant Bob at Parx where the pace was off-the-charts fast.
The opening quarter of the Gallant Bob was 21-2/5 to a half in 43-4/5 seconds! Those are splits you rarely see anywhere, especially on the east coast and much less at Parx. Trinniberg was right on the hot pace while going three wide around the turn.
The eventual winner, Well Spelled, came from 12 lengths back to win posting a 16 point career-best jump on Beyer figures. Trinniberg hung around to lose by just a half-length while still more than three lengths clear of third. Interestingly, third place finisher Private Zone, who was also involved in the pace, will be one of the shorter prices in this year’s Sprint.
Blame and Trinniberg are just two examples in a long list of horse’s who, despite not visiting the winner’s circle, still ran well enough to warrant a chance next time out.
Closer Look: Wise Dan's Shadwell Performance
With that in mind, rather than dissecting Wise Dan’s Shadwell performance in the context of his overall career or Horse of the Year status, let’s look at it objectively:
* The winner, Silver Max, is a front-running machine. When allowed a clear lead, he produces his best stuff. In fact, all of his 11 victories (from 22 starts, pretty stout) were earned on the front-end. He has never passed a horse and gone on to win.
* Wise Dan was stuck wide on both turns. According to Trakus, he traveled 41 more feet than Silver Max, which is approximately five lengths. Silver Max won by 1-¼ lengths.
* Wise Dan did this while chasing a strong pace to boot. “Chasing while wide” is hard to do, especially when the pace is strong or fast. Despite this, Wise Dan was still in the hunt at mid-stretch. Hogy and Handsome Mike, who were second and third early, wilted to 8th and 10th beaten 10-¾ and 14-¾ lengths respectively.
The conclusion? Silver Max ran huge but so did Wise Dan. It’s fun to admire perfection, but perfection is rare, especially in horse racing. Another digit in the loss column is nothing more than a stat. I believe anyone downgrading their opinion of Wise Dan because of his loss on Saturday is being short-sighted.
From a horseplayer’s perspective, Wise Dan might be a good bet against in the Mile. After all, he ran such a big race at Woodbine, followed-up by another strong effort at Keeneland, that the lemon might be squeezed a bit too dry. It all depends on his price.
Regardless, just because he lost a race does not mean he’s any less talented, fast or brilliant and hopefully, for the sake of Wise Dan fans everywhere, a bounce-back run is in order.