MAKER'S 46 MILE STAKES | PURSE: $300,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | GRADE 1 | ONE-MILE
Two-time reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan dismissed any concerns of rust while opening his seven-year-old season in the same manner as last year, winning Friday's Grade 1, $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland. The powerful gelding surged clear in the stretch and easily held late-running longshot Kaigun safe to score by three-quarters of a length.
Trained by Charles LoPresti, Wise Dan was making his first appearance since repeating in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita in early November. Regular rider John Velazquez missed the last start after being injured earlier on the Breeders' Cup program, but the Hall of Famer was back in the boot aboard the classy chestnut.
"This horse is incredible," Velazquez said. "They don't come around that often. He's definitely a special horse, and he's proven it the last two-to-three years."
The Mort Fink homebred opened 2013 with a one-length tally in the Maker's 46 Mile and Wise Dan notched his sixth graded stakes victory at Keeneland Friday. An overwhelming 1-5 favorite among six rivals, he paid $2.80 to win after completing a mile in 1:34 ⅘ over the firm turf.
"I was worried about it [returning from the five-month layoff] just because of the winter and how much [training] time we lost," LoPresti said. "I told Johnny going into the race that 'I just don't have him as tight as I need to but just give him an easy race and if he's good enough to win just do the best you can to save him for the next one.' This one is going to put us where we need to be."
Fink received a gold tray from Keeneland commemorating his eighth graded stakes victory.
Wise Dan notched his 11th straight turf stakes victory, a streak that extends back to August 2012, and his only setback during that period came as a second in the off-the-turf, Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile last October.
"You think I could really come up with the words to describe that,?" Fink said when asked what it's like to own a horse like Wise Dan. "It's like a dream: the whole thing. He does everything right. You just interviewed the guy [LoPresti] who's the reason he's the way he is."
Wise Dan settled into a perfect stalking position, about two lengths back in fourth during the early stages. Alakazan Alakazan advanced forward at the break and held a slim advantage after an opening quarter-mile in :23 ⅘ seconds. The pacesetter continued to lead a tight pack down the backstretch, with Gentleman's Kitten and Za Approval also up close after a half-mile in :47 seconds.
Lochte accelerated from near the back of the back to take a short lead on the far turn as Wise Dan also began edge closer. Lochte passed the six-furlong mark in 1:11, but Wise Dan was only a head back in second with a quarter-mile remaining.
Velazquez asked for run after straightening for home and Wise Dan displayed his trademark turn of foot, quickly seizing control as he opened a sizable lead in midstretch.
"Before the race, Charlie said, 'I don't know if I have him tight enough so you better save some horse,'" Velazquez said. "So I was a little concerned about that and wanted to make sure that I got him back a little bit in the first part to where he could relax a little bit and not use too much energy in the first part, and he did that.
"He got a little strong on the backstretch, so I let him get his position to where he was comfortable. From then on, he did it very well."
Kaigun, the longshot in the field at 37-1, came rolling on the far outside in deep stretch but was never a serious threat to the winner. It was a 4 1/4-length gap to Grade 1 winner Lochte in third. Next came Za Approval, who didn't experience a clean trip along the inside as the 7-2 second choice, Gentleman's Kitten and Alakazan Alakazan. Reload was scratched.
LoPresti was asked what's next.
"I'll talk to the boss man right here [Fink]. He'll tell me what to do," the trainer said. "We're looking at the Woodford [Grade 1 Reserve Turf Classic] Derby Day [May 3] -- what we did last year. We'll just see.
"If he comes back good [from the Maker's 46 Mile], if he's not too tired, that's where we'll go. Maybe we'll do something else. Just see how he comes back."
With the $180,000 payday, Wise Dan has now earned a whopping $6,473,610 from his 28-20-2-0 record. He's compiled nine Grade 1 wins and 17 stakes scores overall. Unraced as a juvenile, Wise Dan showed ability when winning four of six starts at three. During that 2010 campaign, he captured his stakes debut in the Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland and finished a creditable sixth, beaten just 2 ½ lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Wise Dan proved a triple-surface threat in 2011, winning the Firecracker in his turf debut, and adding the Presque Isle Mile on Tapeta, before romping in the Fayette over Keeneland's Polytrack and the Clark Handicap on the Churchill Downs dirt.
He kicked off his 2012 season at Keeneland with a scintillating 10 ½-length conquest of the Ben Ali in a track-record time of 1:46.63 on the Polytrack. Wise Dan returned to Churchill for the Stephen Foster Handicap, only to lose by a head after a tough trip.
Wise Dan commenced a winning spree in the Fourstardave at Saratoga, then added the Shadwell Turf Mile, Woodbine Mile and Breeders' Cup Mile, the latter in a course- and stakes-record 1:31.78.
Last year, Wise Dan followed his Maker's 46 Mile victory with scores in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, Firecracker and Fourstardave, carrying 128 and 129 pounds, respectively, in the latter two performances. He captured the Woodbine Mile for the second straight year in mid-September, this time blitzing in a course-record 1:31.75. After the aforementioned second in the Shadwell Turf Mile, which was held over a puddle-strewn Polytrack at Keeneland, Wise Dan rebounded in the Breeders' Cup Mile, defeating runner-up Za Approval by about a length.
The Kentucky-bred is by Wiseman's Ferry and out of the winning Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle, the 2012 Broodmare of the Year. His half-brother, multiple Grade 2 victor Successful Dan, set a new Churchill track record when taking the 2012 Alysheba.
Another half-sibling to the "Dans," stakes winner Our Royal Dancer, is herself the dam of Argentinean Group 2-placed Bailando Voy. Lisa Danielle is in turn a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Carsona, who has produced Grade 2 victor Siphon City. This is the family of German Group 1-winning highweight Scalo, and further back, French champion, classic winner and noted sire *Val de Loir as well as dual classic heroine and Irish champion *Valoris II.
Wise Dan owns a total of six Eclipse Awards, being named champion turf horse and older male as well as Horse of the Year the past two seasons.