Photo: Don August
When the grand gelding makes his way into the Keeneland starting gate tomorrow for the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile, it will mark his first start of 2014. Now seven, Wise Dan has already etched his name in racing’s history books through his many accomplishments. As the reigning two-time Horse of the Year, the Morton Fink owned, and Charles LoPresti trained chestnut has been the horse to beat in every race he’s competed in the past few years. When you are the King of the hill, there is always someone out there that wishes to knock you off your lofty perch. A year older, and away from the races for more than five months, tomorrow’s test in Kentucky’s bluegrass would seem to be an opportunity for his challengers to jump up and enjoy their day in the sun. If Wise Dan were to beaten, there are some solid candidates to turn the trick.
Lochte was the breakout turf star of the winter. He ran solidly to be first, second, and third in his first three turf races of his career last year, but has turned things up considerably in 2014. After a sharp allowance score in South Florida, he jumped up into grade 1 competition to score a convincing upset in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Since then he headed west, and while he did not get the win, a solid runner-up in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita only pointed out his rise to prominence in the division. Just behind Lochte in the Kilroe was a familiar foe to Wise Dan.
Live Oak Plantation’s striking gray runner Za Approval squared off against Wise Dan twice last year, and in both instances he ran big to finish second, including playing bridesmaid to the champion in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. That was his last start in 2013, but unlike Dan, he does have the benefit of having one race recently under his belt. His fourth in the Kilroe Mile, beaten less than two lengths, was not his best performance, but it wasn’t a poor performance by any means. Any improvement in the second start of the year for the Christophe Clement charge could make him Wise Dan’s most formidable opponent.
Even newer to high class turf racing than Lochte is Reload. Owned by the powerful Phipps Stable and trained by Shug McGaughey, Reload has discovered a career renaissance since switching to grass two starts ago. After a nondescript 15 race career on the main track, Reload impressed while winning an allowance race smartly in January, before shooting up the rail to score in the Grade 2 Canadian Turf Stakes six weeks ago. Perfect in two starts on turf, the five-year-old son of Hard Spun has found a tough spot to try to remain perfect.
If Wise Dan were to beaten, those would be the likely candidates. The problem for them is that Wise Dan is rarely ever beaten. Can you even remember the last time he lost a turf race? It’s fair to think that maybe he can be surprised tomorrow, but I will not be wasting any money on the idea. Wise Dan has proven to be just too good to expect anything other than another victory. Enjoy the champ tomorrow, my friends.