The End of an Era: Wise Dan and Charlie LoPresti

The End of an Era: Wise Dan and Charlie LoPresti
Photo: Mary Cage

A chestnut gelding hung his head over the stall door, his bright eyes enamored by the sight of another Thoroughbred. This other horse, with a rider aboard, made its way towards the training track for its morning exercise. The chestnut extended his neck, intently staring at the other horse as if he was jealous. And he probably was. But this was by no means an ordinary gelding. He was the recipient of six Eclipse Awards, including two Horse of the Year titles, the earner of $7,552,920 million, the winner of two Breeders’ Cup Miles, and the heartthrob of American turf racing. His name: Wise Dan.

The nameplate of his halter read “LoPresti Stable.” Now eight-years-old, the Morton Fink homebred has spent his life under the care of trainer Charlie LoPresti, who has also conditioned a number of Wise Dan’s siblings – other offspring of the gelding's dam, Lisa Danielle.

Standing outside his stall on a chilly, rainy morning in early October, LoPresti gazed at the now-retired racehorse that has taken him on the journey of a lifetime. It was opening weekend at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Ky., LoPresti’s home base and the track at which Wise Dan captured seven of his lifetime wins – including four Grade 1s.

One of those Grade 1 races is the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes, a race Wise Dan captured on two occasions. The thirtieth edition of that race was to be held that day – and the first edition without Wise Dan since 2010.

But the Keeneland crowd still had the chance to enjoy Wise Dan that day. To honor the champion and send him off into retirement, Wise Dan paraded in the Keeneland paddock and in front of the grandstand to give fans the chance to bid farewell. Draped in a sheet that he received for his 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mile win, Wise Dan walked around as cameras focused upon him, prancing every once in a while when he heard the cheers from the crowd.

As Wise Dan paraded before his fans one last time, trainer Charlie LoPresti and his wife Amy stood in the winner’s circle for a special presentation, receiving a large glass vase filled with apples – for Wise Dan of course. As LoPresti accepted the gift, tears welled in his eyes as the realization that Wise Dan’s racing career was truly over dawned.

Rewind several years. Wise Dan was just a youngster – an unraced chestnut whose future was unknown. But LoPresti knew he was a talented horse.

“Even when we broke him, he was really nice,” LoPresti said. “He wasn’t any trouble, but he always was a big, strong horse. When we rode him up and down the hills at our farm, he’d be going down the hills and he would almost push himself down it like a big locomotive. He was always nice.”

Then Wise Dan hit the track and suddenly, he was in his element.

“When we brought him to the racetrack, he got tough,” LoPresti said. “He got fitter. As he got fitter, he got tougher. Then, when we had him pretty close to racing, we just thought he was a really good horse.”

By the time Wise Dan made his first start in February 2010, his half-brother Successful Dan had become a graded stakes winner. Successful Dan’s success, combined with the promise Wise Dan had shown as a youngster, led to high hopes being pinned to the son of Wiseman’s Ferry. LoPresti expected a good performance from Wise Dan when debuted at Turfway Park as a three-year-old and although he ran well, he only finished fifth.

But then a star was born. On March 27, 2010, Wise Dan went to the front and never looked back, trouncing a Turfway Park field by 15 ¼ lengths.

Wise Dan won his next two successive starts, including the Grade 3 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland. His first Breeders’ Cup start came after that in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs, but Wise Dan finished sixth in that venture.

The gelding would continue competing on dirt and all-weather surfaces until July 2011, when he made his turf debut in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap, which he won by 2 ¾ lengths. Although Wise Dan would spend most of the remainder of his career on the grass, he proved that he was capable of being superior on all surfaces. His first Grade 1 win came in the Clark Handicap in November 2011 and he took the 2012 Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes on an all-weather surface by 10 ½ lengths in track record time.

After losing the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on the dirt by just a head, Wise Dan never again raced on a surface other than turf with the exception of the 2013 Shadwell Turf Mile, which was actually contested over a wet Polytrack surface at a mile and one-sixteenth. Wise Dan finished second in that outing – his only loss since the Stephen Foster sixteenth months prior. From sixteen total turf starts, Wise Dan lost only once.

Wise Dan in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Mile

Wise Dan made being a spectacular racehorse look easy. In 2012, he lost only one race from six starts, capturing three Grade 1s – including the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This season earned him Eclipse Awards for Older Male and Turf Male, as well as the biggest award of all: Horse of the Year. His 2013 season – composed of six wins from seven starts, including four Grade 1s and another Breeders’ Cup Mile triumph – earned him the same awards.

But, in reality, Wise Dan’s accomplishments did not come easily. The gelding overcame many obstacles throughout his career, the biggest one of all being a colic surgery in May 2014. Just as he overcame trouble in several of his races, he defeated death and just four months later, he returned to the races in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga. And with every ounce of heart and determination within him, he won.

“When he came back from colic surgery, that was probably the most emotional race,” LoPresti said. “He overcame that colic surgery and then won that. There’s so many (races that stand out), but that’s the one that I really thought was the big one, that he pulled that off.”

To LoPresti, it was this ability to overcome adversity that made Wise Dan a “great” horse – an adjective reserved for a select few of racehorses. Wise Dan’s perseverance allowed him to win race after race at racing’s highest level, writing his name in racing’s history books.

“A good horse is a horse that wins races, wins stakes, but a great horse overcomes – no matter what they do,” LoPresti said. “Look at some of his races: he missed the break, they tried to put him over the hedge in the Firecracker, all the boggy racetracks, horses took him to the front end. No matter what they did, he always ran his race.”

Wise Dan trains over Keeneland's training track

Unfortunately, Wise Dan would race only once more following his win in the Bernard Baruch, taking the Shadwell Turf Mile. Shortly after this win, he was sidelined due to a non-displaced fracture of his right foreleg and forced to miss his attempt at a third-straight victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Little did anyone know at the time, the 2014 Shadwell Turf Mile would be the final start of Wise Dan’s racing career. LoPresti spent 2015 gradually preparing the gelding for a return to the races, but in early September, the trainer noticed something that gave him reason to worry.

“He had a bump on his tendon and I didn’t like the way it looked,” LoPresti said. “It scared me. The more I looked at it, the more I knew it wasn’t right.”

Wise Dan’s injured tendon was examined by a veterinarian, who found a tear on the outside edge of the tendon. The injury was not severe, but had the gelding been pushed, it could have become something worse. Doing right by the horse, LoPresti and Fink decided to retire the 8-year-old gelding.

“It’s not about the money; it’s not about a stallion career,” LoPresti said. “He’s just a racehorse. And now he’s a normal horse. Now he’s a regular horse. He’s just gonna be a horse. . . I always told Mr. Fink – I always promised him one thing: ‘If ever this horse is not right, I won’t run him.’ And that’s what we did.”

For the time being, Wise Dan remains in his stall at LoPresti's Keeneland barn. The trainer plans to allow Wise Dan to continue to wind down from race training before he sends him to his farm outside of Lexington – his forever home.

“I’d rather him be with us at our farm,” LoPresti said. “That’s where he belongs.”

LoPresti walks alongside Wise Dan during his retirement parade

Wise Dan will be turned out for the winter as usual, but he will not spend the remainder of his life just spending time in a paddock. LoPresti knows he is the kind of horse who wants a job and that is exactly what he will give the gelding.

“We’re gonna start breaking a bunch of yearlings on the farm and who knows, maybe we’ll ride him around a little bit in the arena with the yearlings or something like that,” LoPresti said. “If he’ll let us do it, maybe we’ll make a stable pony out of him. He could ride back and forth with the horses, because he likes the racetrack. He likes being here.”

Aside from the plans to make Wise Dan a pony, LoPresti hopes to take the gelding to horsemanship clinics hosted by Buck Brannaman, an internationally renowned horseman on whom the documentary film Buck was focused. LoPresti has great respect for Brannaman, whose clinics he has attended in the past.

“I don’t think he’s gonna have any trouble being a stable pony or horse that you can ride in horsemanship clinics,” LoPresti said. “You can take him anywhere and do anything you want with him. He’s just smarter than any horse I’ve ever been around.”

While LoPresti is content with knowing that Wise Dan will spend the rest of his days with him, he – like the many fans who adore Wise Dan – will miss seeing the hard-trying chestnut charging down the track.

“It’s been a dream come true,” LoPresti said. “You can be around horses all your life and never have a horse like that. I’ll probably never have another horse like that; the racing world probably won’t see one for a long time.”

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University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

 

About Mary Cage

 

Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage 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 is an intern at WinStar Farm with a client relations and marketing focus, as well as some bloodstock duties.


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 racing manager or client relations 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.

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