Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Morton Fink’s homebred Wise Dan, the prohibitive 1-5 favourite, zipped to victory in track record time of 1:31.75 in Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
Ridden by John Velazquez, who notched his record fourth Mile, after victories aboard Riviera in 2000, Leroidesanimaux in 2005, and last year with Wise Dan, the reigning Horse of the Year tracked the tempo setters Excaper and Dimension through fractions of :23.15 and :45.44, before closing three-wide over a firm E.P. Taylor Turf Course, with three-sixteenths of a mile to run.
“I compare it to the horse I sat on, Leroidesanimaux, when he won over here, but I always said he was a freak," said Velazquez. "This one (Wise Dan) is a much bigger freak than the other one. He’s a much better horse, always wins. Horse of the Year, you can’t change that.”
Racing under a hand ride, Wise Dan widened at will down the home straight, hitting the wire an effortless 3 1/2-lengths in front of Za Approval, the 6-1 second choice.
Trade Storm, the 8-1 third-choice, raced from last of six in the early going, was urged into contention through the turn by Gary Stevens and closed between rivals to be third, a further 1 1/4-lengths behind, with Riding the River charging up for fourth.
The final time of 1:31.75 bettered Royal Regalia's mark of 1:31.84 set on July 1, 2004.
Velazquez was confident of another strong performance from Wise Dan.
“The only thing that kind of concerned me a little bit, I think I did a little too much with him in the post parade," said Velazquez. "He was kind of quiet and then he broke well and I put him right behind the other two horses (Excaper and Dimension) and he got rank with me behind the other two horses and I thought, ‘Come on buddy, please come off the bridle a little bit.’ Once he did that I waited until the five sixteenths pole and let him easy out from those two horses and as soon as he saw the wire he just went on.”
His scintillating victory marked a third-consecutive Mile score for trainer Charles LoPresti. The Keeneland-based conditioner notched his first Mile victory in 2011 with long shot Turallure. LoPresti remains undefeated at Woodbine through three starts.
Wise Dan was the first sitting Horse of the Year to compete at Woodbine since 1995 champion Cigar competed in the 1996 Breeders` Cup Classic. The Kentucky-bred five-year-old gelded son of Wiseman’s Ferry won five of six starts in 2012, all graded events, taking the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile and Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland; the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga; and the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita, in addition to his Grade 1 Woodbine Mile coup en route to champion honours.
A graded stakes winner on turf, Polytrack and dirt, the versatile Wise Dan became the shortest-priced winner ($2.50) of the Woodbine Mile since its inception in 1997, eclipsing his own payoff of $3.10 in 2012.
The Ricoh Woodbine Mile was a Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ event, meaning Wise Dan earned a free ticket (travel expenses and entry fees) into the Breeders’ Cup Mile, November 2 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, California.
“He’s a great horse. I mean he is a dream come true. He makes us very proud," said LoPresti. "What he does for the fans and what he does for us, all my team that’s worked with him, Mr. Fink is the breeder, the mare, all the awards we got for breeding and the mare. He is just a dream come true. What a wonderful horse."
It was the fifth win from five starts this year for Wise Dan, well on his way to defending his Horse of the Year title with wins in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark at Keeneland; the Grade 1 Turf Classic and Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga. His Woodbine Mile victory was his ninth straight score, all in graded events.
Overall, Wise Dan has taken 17 of 24 career starts, and with today’s purse of $600,000 surpassed the $5-million mark in earnings.
“I don’t have the right words to tell you how much it means to me. He is a super horse but he’s there because Charlie takes care of him," said Fink. "When you handle a horse that can run like this the temptation is to run him every couple of weeks. He is a money machine. It will never happen as long as Charlie and I have anything to do with him.”
The all-sources handle on the Ricoh Woodbine Mile card was a record $6,698,099, shattering the former mark of $6,064,189 set in 2011.
Wise Dan returned $2.50, $2.10 and $2.10, pairing with Za Approval ($3.50, $2.20) for a $7 (4-6) exactor. A 4-6-3 (Trade Storm, $2.60 to show) triactor was worth $16.30.