Velazquez made a 'Wise' decision

November, 3, 2012
11/03/12
11:59
PM ET
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez only had to fly from New York to California to ride Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, that wasn't the easiest of tasks.

Still, it was a mere stroll in the park compared to what Velazquez was willing to do to ride the 5-year-old gelding in the Breeders' Cup or anywhere else horses race against each other.

Talking on Saturday about the first time Velazquez hopped aboard Wise Dan, the horse's trainer, Charles Lopresti, recounted that 2011 day by saying, "When he got off him, he said 'this is one of the best horses I've ever sat on,' and I didn't know him very well at that time. I thought he was just telling me that, and then Angel [Cordero, Velazquez's agent] said no, he's not telling me that, he means it. He said, 'We would go to China to ride that horse, wherever he goes, we're staying with him.'"

On horse racing's biggest stage, it became readily apparently why the Hall of Fame rider was willing to use up his frequent flier points to stick with Wise Dan. On a day geared for the sport's best and brightest stars, it was a gelding who stole the show as Wise Dan captured the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile and in all likelihood wrapped up Horse of the Year honors.

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John Velazquez
Harry How/Getty ImagesJohn Velazquez and Wise Dan win the Breeders' Cup Mile, outrunning Animal Kingdom -- the horse Velazquez rode to victory in May's Kentucky Derby.

"Our hat is in the ring," Lopresti said following the length-and-a-half victory.

One of the hats dropped at the end of the day when Wise Dan's main foe in the Horse of the Year race, Game On Dude, finished a dismal seventh in the Classic.

For Wise Dan, the Mile capped a year in which he won five of six starts and suffered his lone defeat when he endured a rough trip and lost by a head in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on dirt.

He might not have run in the richest race on the Breeders' Cup program, but his victory over a stellar international field was clocked in a BC- and track-record-matching 1:31.78 over very firm turf.

"He is just a super horse," Lopresti said. "Every time I work him, every time I do something with him, he amazes me."

He also beat some amazing competition in the Mile.

Behind Wise Dan in fourth was the European shipper Excelebration, who, prior to Saturday, had finished in front of every horse he faced in 2012 except the out-of-this-world, unbeaten Frankel.

In second was an even more well-known runner, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. In his first start since February, he was gobbling up ground on Wise Dan and might have won if it had been the Breeders' Cup Mile and a Sixteenth.

Even more noteworthy was the jockey aboard Animal Kingdom who ran into traffic problems that might have cost his mount an amazing victory. It was Rafael Bejarano. Not Velazquez, who rode the Team Valor colt to glory in the Kentucky Derby.

Clearly, Velazquez wasn't fooling about not letting Wise Dan out of his sight.

"When [trainer Graham Motion] put Animal Kingdom in this race people said I was going to lose Johnny, and I called Angel and I said I'm afraid we're going to lose [Velazquez]. He said 'I told you [he] would go to China to ride this horse.'"

It turned out Velazquez only had to fly to the West Coast, and in January he'll probably be able to fly to Florida for the Eclipse Awards and watch one of his mounts become Horse of the Year.

With the Breeders' Cup now history, I'll Have Another seems the biggest threat to spoil those plans. He did, after all, win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in a perfect 4-for-4 2012 campaign. Yet he also last raced in mid-May and for those with short memories the timing of Wise Dan's crowning performance at Santa Anita could be convincing.

If not, perhaps they should talk to John Velazquez's travel agent. That might seal the deal.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.

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