There is no use commenting on Wise Dan and the Breeders’ Cup Classic any longer, although there is one final thought mentioned farther down, merely for the sake of history. But although that door has been closed, let’s not forget the Dan No. 2 waiting to charge through Door No. 2. Although Wise Dan’s big brother Successful Dan has barely had his name mentioned since his excellent second-place finish in the Whitney, the belief here is that Charles LoPresti and Mort Fink have an excellent chance to win the Classic anyway with the second of Mort’s Mates.
While Successful Dan’s pedigree doesn’t quite shout out 1 1/4 miles, he overcame a lot to finish a fast-closing second in the Whitney -- from drawing the rail to falling in the paddock to dropping far back off fairly moderate fractions to having to swing six-wide at the top of the stretch. Then, when Mucho Macho Man drifted out around the three-sixteenths pole, it forced Successful Dan out several paths farther. Then, inside the eighth pole, Cross Traffic made a right-hand turn, forcing Mucho Macho Man out once again, impeding a rallying Successful Dan, who was knocked off stride and on to his left lead. He gathered himself and then came on again, switching back to his right lead just before the wire. With all that, he was beaten three-quarters of a length in the third fastest Whitney in the past 10 years, while coming home his final eighth in :12 2/5.
Just as Cross Traffic deserved to win the Whitney after two heartbreaking defeats in the Westchester and Met Mile in only his third and fourth career starts, Successful Dan deserves to win a grade I stakes after an injury-plagued career, which saw him go to the sidelines once for 15 months and once for 14 months. He did manage to win the grade I Clark Handicap in 2010, but was disqualified and placed third. It’s time he finally gets a break.
Late in the morning on Whitney day, Successful Dan stood motionless along the wall of his stall, facing the window, and it was obvious he had his game face on. He was in the zone, as they say. He telegraphed that into a huge performance, but still is looking for that elusive grade I score.
Mort Fink isn’t so sure that a sound Successful Dan isn’t as talented as his baby brother, or at least close to him in ability. And he’s pretty versatile himself. Four of his eight career victories have been on dirt and four have been on Polytrack.
Despite his speed-oriented sire line, he does have several stamina influences on his dam’s side (inbreeding to Princequillo, Northern Dancer, and when was the last time you saw a horse inbred to Kentucky Derby winner Lucky Debonair?) If he can be in peak form and healthy on Breeders’ Cup day, and with all the potential speed horses that could show up, he just might be on target finally to upstage his more heralded brother.
Speaking of which, it is obvious by now that LoPresti and especially Fink have their priorities pretty well firmed up and they don’t give a hoot what anyone thinks. Others, myself included, wish that their priorities involved the BC Classic, and I must admit that part of my thinking is based on the fact that I cover the Classic, and you always want to see the possibility of history being made in a race of that magnitude. Is that selfish on my part to want to chronicle a potential history-making event? It is not selfish to want to see him attempt to elevate himself into the realm of the truly great geldings, or all great horses for that matter. It is testament to Wise Dan’s extraordinary ability that so many people want to see him shoot for the stars, if only this one time.
I wrote a feature on Fink in the Blood-Horse magazine earlier this year and found him to be a man of great integrity who has devoted 40 years to racing and is having a ball with Wise Dan. So, I respect his decision and his priorities.
But as a historian of the sport I often think in those terms. I recently wrote my thoughts on striving for greatness in an online forum. And once again, this is not an attempt to convince anyone to try something they don’t want to do. This strictly is about greatness, based on 45 years of witnessing great horses, and being rewarded for a sporting gesture.
Why run John Henry in the Santa Anita Handicap twice and Jockey Club Gold Cup when he was strictly a grass horse? Result: Only horse to win the Big Cap twice.
Why keep trying to win the Washington D.C. International against the world's best turf horses with Kelso year after year when he was a dirt horse? Result: New American record for 1 1/2 miles and a fifth consecutive Horse of the Year title.
Why run Forego in the seven-furlong Vosburgh and Carter against brilliant sprinters like Mr. Prospector, Lonetree, and Timeless Moment when his best races were between 1 1/4 miles and 2 miles? Result: Only horse in history to win the two-mile JC Gold Cup and be named champion sprinter the same year.
All through history, horses, not just these three great geldings, have stepped out of their comfort zone to strive for greatness. It wasn’t about winning or losing. It was the sporting thing to do. Who remembers John Henry's, Forego's, and Kelso's defeats, except when those defeats actually boosted their reputation (ie Seattle Slew in the JC Gold Cup, Zenyatta in the BC Classic, Groupie Doll in last year's Cigar Mile)
Why run Arcangues in the BC Classic when he was strictly a grass horse? Result: Highest payoff in Breeders' Cup history.
Why stretch Ghostzapper out to 1 1/4 miles in the BC Classic when he had been two turns only once in his career and seven of his nine career starts were in sprints? And his half-brother, City Zip, couldn’t be pushed past six furlongs. Result: A new stakes record in the Classic and a Horse of the Year title.
Why run Raven's Pass and Henry the Navigator on a synthetic surface for the first time going 1 1/4 miles against the mighty Curlin when they were strictly grass milers? Result: an unprecedented European 1-2 finish.
Look at how close Giant’s Causeway and Sakhee came to becoming legends. And they would have had it not been for the courage and fighting spirit of Tiznow.
Wise Dan is a truly great miler on the grass and there is nothing wrong with having that distinction. If they are content with that and to keep his unbeaten streak going, that's fine. It's their prerogative. There is something to be said for winning. Fink said he was so confident before last year's BC Mile, because he knew the horse would do whatever he had to to win. For some owners, they wouldn't want to be that confident race after race, knowing their horse was going to win. Some would like to experience the thrill that uncertainty brings and savor a victory all the more because it wasn't a foregone conclusion. Again, each owner is different.
And to those who say Wise Dan has no shot in the Classic, on what is that based? He's a grade I winner at 1 1/8 miles on dirt and didn’t have the best of it over a dead, tiring racetrack in his head defeat to the Santa Anita Handicap winner in a grade I at 1 1/8 miles. And perhaps I’m wrong, but isn’t it possible Wise Dan is a better horse now than he was then, grass or no grass? We just don’t know for sure.The all-time greats do things other than what they do best. That's what makes them all-time greats. Sometimes you have to take chances to attain that.
That’s the final word on the subject, I promise. Best of luck to Wise Dan the rest of the year.
OK, now that the Classic finally has said goodbye to Wise Dan, it is time to say hello to Successful Dan. The stage is all yours.