Enjoying the reigning Horse of the Year on a picture-perfect Saturday. How much better can it get?
Wise Dan triumphed in his return to Saratoga, scoring a workmanlike 1 1⁄4-length victory over a stubborn King Kreesa to win the Fourstardave Handicap for the second straight year. Carrying highweight of 129 pounds and spotting his rivals between 11 and 13 pounds, Wise Dan sat an inside, in-behind trip as King Kreesa controlled the pace. Johnny Velazquez eased Wise Dan off the fence to the two-path approaching the quarter-pole, collared the leader in mid-stretch and under a steady hand ride edged away for the victory, his eighth in a row.
In defeat, the New York-bred King Kreesa ran gallantly. He gets very brave when allowed to control the pace, and Irad Ortiz Jr. did a fine job at that. And when Wise Dan came to him, King Kreesa fought on gamely. His connections could have taken the easy route, running in the upcoming, restricted West Point. But they took a shot against the champ, and King Kreesa ran big.
The result was certainly expected, with Wise Dan going off at odds of 2-5, returning $2.80 to win. What has been somewhat unexpected is just how Wise Dan has gotten to this point, becoming the finest middle-distance turf horse in North America, and possibly the world.
When trainer Charlie LoPresti brought Wise Dan to Saratoga last year, he was being pointed for the Whitney Handicap on dirt. He had been beaten a head — as the odds-on favorite — in the Grade I Stephen Foster on dirt at Churchill. He was already a Grade I winner on that surface, having impressively captured the 2011 Clark Handicap. At that point, Wise Dan’s main track resume was much stronger than his credentials on turf.
He had run only twice on grass, having upset a decent field in the 2011 Firecracker prior to finishing fourth against a much stronger group in the 2011 Shadwell Mile at Keeneland. So, why didn’t Wise Dan run in last year’s Whitney? Simple. He trained so poorly over the main track here that LoPresti called an audible and ran him in the Fourstardave. The rest, as they say, is history.
Wise Dan proceeded to romp in the Fourstardave, despite catching yielding turf for the first time. That superior effort led LoPresti and owner Morton Fink to map out a grass campaign for the the remainder of 2012.
Subsequent dominating victories in the Woodbine Mile and the Shadwell Mile left the former high-class dirt runner as the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Mile on turf. His smashing victory that day earned him an Eclipse Award as North America’s finest turf horse, an honor not often bestowed on middle-distance runners. Just ask Lure. Wise Dan was also the overwhelming choice for Horse of the Year, making him the first turf miler in the history of the Eclipse Awards to be given the honor.
If he hadn’t trained so poorly on the dirt here, it’s pretty unlikely that Wise Dan would be in the position he is today.
Being a gelding, he will, hopefully, have a very long career. At some point — although not likely in the immediate future — Wise Dan will probably go back to dirt. LoPresti wants to run him in some prestigious dirt races, and actually wanted to run him in last week’s Whitney, but Fink seems quite content to watch his star continue to shine on grass.
You can’t really blame him. He does have the finest middle-distance turf horse around.
McNeill cashes in
While Wise Dan’s $2.80 mutuel wasn’t terribly exciting to most fans, Adam McNeill was thrilled. The 33-year-old Saratoga Springs financial advisor, the latest recipient of the $15,000 win bet from Mary Lou Whitney, John Hendrickson and the Saratoga 150 promotion, chose Wise Dan to win the Fourstardave. The return, $21,000. Not bad for someone who has never handicapped a single race in his life, whose previous largest win bet was $25.00 and who had forgotten he even entered the promotion.
The early double — comprised of a pair of dirt sprints — was won in wire-to-wire fashion, as both Moonlight Song and Jan’s Perfect Star led throughout. The latter, who got rank and very briefly lost her action, was the longest shot in the five-horse second race field at 6-1.
Neat Package, the first sibling to race out of a mare who made $652,000, but who was winless on turf, broke her maiden in the grassy fourth. In closest attendance to leader Seductive Charm, Neat Package, who hadn’t started since last December, took over in upper stretch and held off Poster Girl, who sat a perfect trip. Nice piece of training by Jonathan Sheppard. A much-improved effort from
Dynaverse, who added blinkers and finished third while burdened with the extreme outside post. Dynaverse is by Dynaformer, my favorite turf sire, and is out of Colstar, who won $1 million on grass. You might want to add Dynaverse to your stable mail.
Firster In Trouble, from underrated trainer Tony Dutrow, ran down favored Sound of Freedom to win the sixth. Asked to run away from the gate by Joe Rocco, Jr., who scored his second of three wins on the afternoon, In Trouble stalked throughout while three-wide, was urged midway around the turn when Sound of Freedom got away from him, then kept grinding to run down the leader late. It was a professional effort. Mosler, the $1 million son of War Front who debuted for Bill Mott, ran evenly while finishing fourth.
Trainer Richard Metivier of Glens Falls enhanced an already outstanding meet when his Even Got Quiet got up late to win the seventh. Metivier has won three races with only nine starters, quite a record at Saratoga for a trainer with a small stable.
Trainer George Weaver remained on a roll as his Summer of Fun rallied to capture the Auntie Mame overnight stakes as the favorite. Despite eventual runner-up Effie Trinket setting a slow pace (six furlongs in 1:15.24), Summer of Fun and Joe Rocco were able to draw off to a 11⁄2-length score. Weaver is currently tied for sixth in the standings with six wins.
Today’s feature races are the Adirondack and the Saratoga Special, both for 2-year-olds. The Adirondack — for fillies — drew a field of seven. None have ever raced in New York. Not a single New York-based filly in there. Bret Calhoun, who trains the program favorite, Fiftyshadesofgold, won his first ever race at Saratoga on opening day when he dead-heated in the Schuylerville with Bahnah. Michael Dilger, who trains Wired Bryan in the Saratoga Special, won his first ever race here when that colt upset the Sanford.