It’s that time again.
The Saratoga Race Course meet is wrapping up, with just a Labor Day weekend of action left.
Track announcer Tom Durkin is heading off into the sunset, just 33 race calls of denouement left in his brilliant 43-year career.
And yet, the old boy Wise Dan is just getting started, it seems.
The 7-year-old gelding and two-time Horse of the Year went back to school on Thursday.
An improbable confluence of events will have to occur for him to win that award again this year, but if it does, one of those events — again — will happen at Saratoga.
In preparation for Saturday’s Bernard Baruch, trainer Charlie LoPresti brought Wise Dan to the starting gate and then the paddock in the morning and declared that “he knows game’s on.”
That’s a remarkable leap from the middle of May, when the horse was lifted upside down onto an operating table “with his belly opened up, [the surgeon] looking at his guts.”
On Thursday, Wise Dan looked like a statue chiseled from granite as he re-acquainted himself with the paddock. The Whitney winner, Moreno, was there, too, and drew plenty of attention by bucking his way around the saddling ring.
But mostly people were attracted to Wise Dan and his gleaming chestnut coat and choppy white blaze, a gunfighter’s belt with notches in it.
He was out of commission for three weeks because of emergency colic surgery to correct this mouthful: nephrosplenic entrapment.
That’s when part of the intestines gets tangled behind the spleen, but his doctor discovered upon incision that the horse’s innards had corrected themselves, perhaps simply through the jostling to get him on the table.
The jury is out on Horse of the Year, though.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome will be back in action soon enough, and in the meantime, another 3-year-old — Shared Belief — has put himself on the radar by remaining undefeated for his career by beating older horses, including Game On Dude, last weekend in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Palace Malice bombed in the Whitney and will skip Saturday’s Woodward in favor of the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 27, raising questions about whether he should still be in the Horse of the Year conversation.
Wise Dan, meanwhile, is just happy to be here.
Last year, he became the fourth back-to-back Horse of the Year after Forego won it three years in a row from 1974 to 1976.
For now, LoPresti just wants to win the Bernard Baruch.
“We’ve got to get started someplace, and this is a logical place,” LoPresti said. “None of these races here are easy, no matter where you start. I think we’ve got a good chance.”
The Bernard Baruch is logical because Wise Dan won the Fourstardave in each of the last two years, so he likes Saratoga.
They tried to make that race earlier in the meet, but the timetable crunch was too much, trying to put “10 pounds of potatoes in an eight-pound bag,” LoPresti said.
Wise Dan will still be putting a hefty 127 pounds on his back for the Bernard Baruch, but the New York Racing Association racing office made a wise move by conceding two pounds from what he carried last year, after LoPresti petitioned based on the colic setback.
Two pounds may not seem like much to a granite statue, but it probably was the difference between Wise Dan running at Saratoga or waiting for the Woodbine Mile in Toronto.
Count your lucky stars, fans.
LoPresti also got a bit of relief when more than one apparent speed horse entered the Bernard Baruch, which means that jockey John Velazquez has some options and doesn’t have to be the one chasing one speed horse trying to steal it on the front end.
Wise Dan stood in the gate, walked around the paddock and was tacked up and saddled.
LoPresti has had plenty to fret about, and continues to worry about every little thing. “Win, lose or draw, it’s just the fact that he’s alive and we have a chance to run him again. That’s the biggest thing for us.”
It’s that time again.