Enough talk about Wise Dan’s guts already.
They passed muster when a surgeon opened him up in mid-May.
As always, they more than passed muster on the track at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
Thrilling the crowd with one more excruciatingly close performance, the two-time Horse of the Year held off the hard-charging Optimizer by a short nose to win the Grade II Bernard Baruch on the inner turf course.
It was his first race back from emergency colic surgery on May 16, less than two weeks after he had won the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.
The victory was the future Hall of Famer’s 22nd in 29 career starts and pushed his record to 3-for-3 at Saratoga and 3-for-3 this year.
Layoff? What layoff? Pushed to the limit by a big field and a ferocious closer, Wise Dan posted a time of 1:39.08 that was just 17-hundredths of a second off the course record set by the great Fourstardave in 1991.
“Pretty emotional,” trainer Charlie LoPresti said. “He carried all this weight, and off this layoff and the operation that he overcame, I’ve got to tell you, I’m pretty happy with him. I’m relieved.”
“He showed he has the heart of a champion,” jockey John Velazquez said. “It’s incredible to have this horse coming back. What happened to him, training and to come back and run with 127 pounds, that’s incredible.”
The Saratoga fans showered the 7-year-old gelding with appreciation as he walked to the paddock and out to the track.
He promptly dumped Velazquez as they were loading, causing LoPresti some concern.
Then the crowd waited for track announcer Tom Durkin to make the final call on the photo finish before bursting into another cheer that was followed by a long ovation as he jogged back to the winner’s circle.
Velazquez said he wrang every ounce of energy out of Wise Dan to get him to the wire on time.
In a race that appeared to have some pace, he tracked Five Iron, Bio Pro and Sayaad down the backstretch, was within three lengths with three furlongs to go and angled out a bit on the turn to find clear sailing once they got into the stretch.
Wise Dan finally wore down Sayaad at the sixteenth pole, but Optimizer was making a strong rush down the middle of the course, but couldn’t quite get there as Durkin said, “Optimizer surges, here comes the wire … Wise Dan, I think he did it! I think he did it.”
He did it.
“When I got to the eighth pole, I didn’t think I had it,” Velazquez said. “When I got past the sixteenth pole, he was giving me everything he had, and the other horse [Optimizer] was coming from the outside. There was a little bit of doubt, he was getting tired. I’m incredibly proud.”
“It’s like he never even had surgery, that’s the amazing thing about it,” LoPresti said. “I mean, he’ll build from this race. God willing, when he comes back, he’ll be way tougher next time.
“He’s a trouper, man, he knows how to win races. Johnny told me he was tired. But that’s the way he wins races.
Angela Renee, a full sister to Woodward winner To Honor and Serve, will add blinkers off a second to Cavorting in the Adirondack and is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the Grade I Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies on the main track today.
She and Curalina, a daughter of Curlin, give trainer Todd Pletcher two good shots at winning the fifth Spinaway of his career.
“I thought she ran very well [in the Adirondack], but just caught a buzzsaw with Cavorting,” Pletcher said. “Johnny [Velazquez] seemed to think she was a little bit shy of horses and intimidated, so we worked her back in some blinkers and liked what we saw. We’ll stick with them.” ...
Velazquez was presented with the Mike Venezia Memorial Award, recognizing riders who display sportsmanship and citizenship.
The award was based on a fan vote on www.NYRA.-com.