It is looking more and more as if Wise Dan will remain doing what he’s been doing best and will not venture back on the dirt for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. There had been talk about a possible start in the Whitney, but that didn’t happen, and his big brother, Successful Dan, proved to be an able substitute, running one of the best races of his often-interrupted career.
So, if you’re not going to attempt to join the all-time greats, you might as well attempt to be great at what you do. And Wise Dan will take a big step in that direction when he carries 129 pounds (yes, 129 pounds in 2013) in the Fourstardave Handicap, conceding 12 pounds to classy horses such as King Kreesa, Mr. Commons, and Lea and 11 pounds to the brilliant miler Za Approval, who will be dropping six pounds from his second-place finish to Obviously in the grade I Shoemaker Mile.
Wise Dan also drew the rail, so he likely will be at the mercy of any jockeys who are intent on trapping him down on the inside, as they did in the Firecracker. In addition, he will have to keep an eye on the likely pacesetter, King Kreesa, who has a ton of speed and could be winging out there with a comfortable lead.
Add all this up and you have what looks to be a tough spot for the reigning Horse of the Year. But considering what he had to overcome in the Firecracker over a boggy course, and considering what we’ve seen in his last seven races, starting with last year’s Fourstardave, Wise Dan still has one thing in his favor – he knows how to win and always seems to find a way to get it done. If he didn’t get beat in the Firecracker, he may never get beat. To come through a nearly non-existent hole along the hedge the way he did over a course not to his liking showed what he’s made of and was more inspiring than any of his prior brilliant victories.
Wise Dan’s main weapon is his tactical speed and his incredible efficiency in motion. He’s never too far back and he’s never too close. He always puts himself in position to unleash his explosive stretch kick. In the stretch, there is absolutely no wasted action. Looking at him closely in his stall last week, you can see from his body length and the hind muscles just how he generates all that power and the ground he covers with such ease.
We recently wrote a column about how we’d like to see him, even if only once, aim for the stars and point for the BC Classic, and if it doesn’t work out, then return to mile grass races. It was suggested only because the greatness is there, and he’s already shown he can handle the dirt in top-class company going two turns. But with the Whitney opportunity gone, we are resigned to his remaining on the grass. And if his connections are content with that and have no desire to push it any further, then you have to respect that and just be content to watch him excel in his own comfort zone.
This is the era of the specialists, and we have seen sprinters like Black Caviar and milers like Frankel become national heroes. The longer Wise Dan’s winning streak continues, the more likely he will join that company.
The voters obviously love him, giving him three Eclipse Awards last year over Fort Larned in the older male division and Little Mike and Point of Entry in the grass male division, all of whom were equally deserving of the honors. He just needs a little PR to reach mainstream America.
If Wise Dan can get through this true handicap test, just like the old-time handicappers had to do, then it should be clear sailing once again to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. If he gets beat under the conditions, he will be forgiven, because he is at least attempting to achieve greatness in this manner.
Wise Dan’s owner, 83-year-old Morton Fink, has been in racing for over 40 years and has had his share of good horses, but nothing like Wise Dan, and probably nothing like Successful Dan, although Guided Tour, Annoconnor, and Producer were no slouches.
He knows a good horse when he sees one, and he’s gotten to the point where he expects Wise Dan to always find a way to get the job done, even in a race like the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
“I actually got to the point where I believed the horse couldn’t lose, no matter who he’s running against,” he said. “I knew the Breeders’ Cup wasn’t an easy race, but after seeing all his races I thought whatever he had to do to win he would do. And he did.”
And he said that earlier this year before the Firecracker, so he now must really believe that, even though he says, “If you don’t have a good trip, you don’t win.” Wise Dan did a great job in the Firecracker convincing him that’s not always the case.
Fink recently began to cut back on his racing operation, and he retired from breeding altogether. But he decided to keep one mare, Lisa Danielle.
“The only reason I kept her is because she was named after my granddaughter, who I love deeply,” Fink said.
He bought Lisa Danielle in the first place only because he figured she would fit at Arlington, which is his home base, and it would give him a horse to go look at. She was a beautiful filly, but had bad ankles.
“People kept asking me, ‘Why would you keep that filly?’ I know enough not to do that, but I just didn’t want to get rid of her.”
Well, look at the magical journey Lisa Danielle has taken him on with sons of Wiseman’s Ferry (Wise Dan), who he raced, and Successful Appeal.
As much as Fink loves a admires Successful Dan, especially considering all the setbacks he’s had to endure, Wise Dan is his “miracle horse,” and to have him come along right after Successful Dan was “beyond belief.”
Fink’s love of horses must be pretty deep considering he’s allergic to them. “I can go over and give them a carrot or something, and then I have to get the hell out of there,” he said.
Fink says, at age 83, you have to have something to do when you get up in the morning or you can get pretty depressed.
Between Wise Dan and Successful Dan he doesn’t have to worry about having something to do when he wakes up. It makes sense that he wants to keep both horses around for as long as possible. If keeping Wise Dan on the grass and being confident of victory every time he runs is what makes him happy, then that’s obviously the path he should take.
All others can do is offer their own opinions regarding what they would like to see the horse do in the name of history. But in the end, it is the owner’s decision. And for Fink, history is now.