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Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Past the Grandstand

Thank You, Wise Dan

Wise Dan 615 X 400
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 horse racing.

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 withers.

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.


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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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