Versatile, as defined by Webster, is embracing a
variety of subjects, fields, or skills; also: turning with ease from one thing
to another. It occurs to me that Wise Dan is versatile, and then some.
When the five-year-old son of Wiseman’s Ferry enters the
starting gate as the likely favorite in tomorrow’s half-million dollar
Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, it will mark his first race on grass in more
than nine months. Why has such a talented performer stayed away from the green
stuff for so long, you may ask … simply stated, because this horse can do it
all. To illustrate this belief, let’s take the career highlights of the horse I
saw break his maiden by more than 15 lengths a little more than two years ago,
straight to the court of popular opinion.
Exhibit A – Got speed?
Wise Dan was so talented as a sprinter that, in only
his fourth career start, he was able to win the Grade 3 Phoenix at Keeneland
against a salty group of older sprinters. The impressive victory, in his stakes
debut, propelled him to a start in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Sprint against much
more experienced foes. Running for the first time ever on a fast dirt track,
Wise Dan was beaten only 2 ½ lengths.
Exhibit B – His mother was a mudder, you say?
Off tracks have been no problem whatsoever for the Lord
of Versatility. His first try on a sloppy track produced an easy win, running
1:09 2/5 for six panels, and then just a few weeks after his BC Sprint run,
Wise Dan came back to beat good older horses in his first try at a mile. The
sharp performance in the Churchill slop earned the then three-year-old gelding
a 102 Beyer Speed Figure.
Exhibit C – What about stamina … can he handle the
The classic distance of ten furlongs is yet to be
determined, but if his performances at 1 1/8 miles are any indication, the extra
distance will be no sweat. His first three tries at nine furlongs produced
three romping wins, including a big victory in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap, and
in his fourth start, he was beaten by a small head in the Grade 1 Foster. Keep
in mind, he had less than a good trip that day, and was giving his vanquisher,
Ron the Greek, four pounds.
Exhibit X – Is he good on the fake stuff?
How do a four-length win in the Grade 2 Fayette, and a
10 ½ length tour-de-force in the Grade 3 Ben Ali, in his latest two synthetic
surface starts, grab you. Clearly if the Breeders’ Cup Classic was being held
on Keeneland’s Polytrack surface this year, Wise Dan would be the horse they
would all have to beat.
Exhibit Y – Yes, but can he smoke his competition on
Oh yes, Wise Dan has taken to turf like a duck to
water. In his only two starts so far on the grass, the Charles Lopresti star
dominated a deep field in the Grade 2 Firecracker last summer, before fighting
tooth-and-nail all the way in one of the best turf races of 2011. In the end,
he succumbed to the powerful late rally of Gio Ponti, losing the Grade 1
Shadwell Turf Mile by a scant length and three-quarters.
Exhibit Z – Turf and synthetic horses are not generally
as good on dirt.
Sorry, Wise Dan does not fall for that trap. Two of
those big races at the aforementioned nine furlong distance came on the dirt,
and you can argue that his win in the Clark, and his narrow defeat in the
Foster, were right up there with the finest performances of his remarkable
In closing, a successful trainer once told me a good
horse can run well on broken glass. To some extent this may be true, but only
the rare performers can get it done against top competition at any distance and
on any surface. Wise Dan is just such a horse. I rest my case.