Race of the Week 2017

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Zipse At The Track

Is Wise Dan the best all-around horse in America?

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 distance?


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 grass?


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 career.


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. 


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Older Comments about Is Wise Dan the best all-around horse in America?...

Mr. Thirsty, his trainer mentioned those two races as his possible next starts on the NBC telecast
Of course then we'll have RTG and Flat Out who looks to be improving.
If he goes to the Woodward he going to probably run into Fort Larned who on dirt is on even terms with him.
Where did you hear that Zipse?
The Woodward or Woodbine Mile could be next for the Lord of Versatility.
I think we thinked that this morning. lol when there this EZ they scare me. 1/2/3/ cold -Of course last week I ran 2/3/4/5/ and left out my star because of the PP. In hindsight which always seems to be 20/20 that was the perfect PP for him. live and learn.
I believe this horse could win the Sprint, the Classic, and anything in between.
Hope the plans are to send him to the BC but what race would you put him in? He could win most a mile or over...
LOL ... I was just wondering the same thing while doing my morning handicapping ... probably yes!
I'm looking forward to seeing Wise Dan at the Spa today. Exhibit 2Y -- to be determined, will he like the soggy turf , too?

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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