The Breeders’ Cup, especially this year’s edition, is so difficult on the wallet, especially mine, which is never exactly bulging with cash. But I finally discovered a way to come out ahead, which I mentioned in my Friday column.
It was so simple even a brainless handicapper like myself can figure it out in just four little words – Wise Dan/all/all. That trifecta wheel was money in the bank. I had written several weeks ago that Wise Dan would never be beaten at a mile on the grass. The reasoning was simple: There isn’t a horse in the world he can’t catch and there isn’t a horse in the world that can catch him. You can’t get things any simpler and easier than that.
But wagering aside, there was a certain aspect of the Breeders’ Cup Mile I found sad, and it got me thinking. It really is a shame our milers are not revered the way they are in Europe. Sure, Wise Dan received the ultimate respect last year by being named Horse of the Year, and he will repeat this year, likely in a landslide. But titles are confined to the isolated world of racing. And in each of the last two years, there has not been anyone at the end of the year to challenge Wise Dan for the sport’s greatest honor, which also is sad. It’s been Wise Dan vs. Game On Dude going into the Breeders’ Cup and twice it’s been no contest.
When you mention Frankel, you think great horse before great miler. When you mention Goldikova, you think great horse before great miler. The reason is that Europe has a Champion Miler award, and they even have classics run at a mile – the English, Irish, and French Guineas. In addition to the classics, they have such prestigious group I races as the Queen Anne Stakes and St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, Sussex Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Lockinge Stakes, Prix Jacques le Marois, Prix du Moulin, and Prix Jean Prat, not to mention a number of group I mile events for fillies. Those are some of the greatest races in Europe, regardless of distance.
In America, we have the Met Mile and Cigar Mile on dirt, and grade I races like the Shoemaker Mile, Woodbine Mile, and Shadwell Turf Mile on grass. How many people, especially casual racing fans, really get very excited about those grass miles?
Those are the races in which Wise Dan runs every year; no fault of his own. That is what is available for him. I had been pushing for Wise Dan to run in the Classic or another major grade I race on the dirt, only because I thought he deserved the opportunity to be considered a great horse before a great grass miler. But the truth is, Wise Dan IS a great horse first and foremost, and the closest thing we’ve seen to an unbeatable (male) horse in a long time. He has found his niche in life, dominated it like none before him, and is no less a great horse than milers Frankel and Goldikova and sprinter Black Caviar.
It is the owner and trainer’s decision to keep him where he is that has them taking home trophies the past two years, and there is nothing wrong with that. Although I would still love to see him elevate his status to “great horse” in the eyes of the historians and skeptics, and believe he can accomplish that because of his rare talents, I no longer pursue that goal for him, because there is something beautiful about seeing a horse win race after race and do so in such machine-like fashion. It’s hard not to enjoy watching an athlete, whether human or animal, strip away all the complexities of life in the competitive arena, and transform themselves into something as simple as a machine that is programmed to function at the highest level day after day.
That is why I was counting my money before the Mile, unconcerned with the competition. I was not looking at Wise Dan as a horse, but a machine, just as I knew my car would start that morning by turning the ignition key. Just as I knew my air conditioner would go on in my hotel room.
I always worried about Zenyatta, because she came from so far out of it and there was always the danger of a good horse getting out there and stealing the race from her. I always worried about Rachel Alexandra, because there was always the danger of a classy speed horse cooking her on the front end and setting it up for a closer. With Wise Dan, those fears never existed, because of his incredible engine that generates so much power, regardless of where he is running in a race. He could be second or seventh; it doesn’t matter. I wasn’t worried when he was back in seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, farther off the pace than usual. When you’re not worried about a horse or the scenario of a race, you’re dealing with something special.
Perhaps it is time for American racing to institute a champion miler Eclipse Award for those horses who must depend on the Classic division or even the Filly & Mare division to collapse come Breeders’ Cup time in order to be considered for Horse of the Year. Let’s face it, had Game On Dude won the Classic he would taken home the award. We can start by coming up with new, lucrative mile races and adding to the purses of the existing ones. Have a Mile Triple Crown that, like Canada’s Triple Crown, is comprised of both dirt and grass races. Or an all dirt Triple Crown or all grass Triple Crown, perhaps with bonus incentives. If milers are the most sought after stallions, why do we not give them an opportunity to excel at a mile over the course of the year and on a large scale?
As thrilling as it was to watch Wise Dan storm down the Santa Anita stretch, as he did at Churchill Downs, Saratoga, and Woodbine this year, in the back of my mind I still can’t help wanting to see him elevate himself to that next plateau just once, if only to attain the greatness that would stamp his place in history, along with the John Henrys and Round Tables. But his connections are looking strictly at the present and which races give the horse the best chance to win. And it is that thinking that will land him back-to-back Horse of the Year titles.
Trainer Charlie LoPresti had indicated a desire to run him on dirt this year, but owner Morton Fink was content to see him continue to do what he’s been doing. So, for now at least, it looks as if his victory in the grade I Clark Handicap and head defeat in the Stephen Foster on dirt will have to suffice, unless they decide to just have some fun with him next year. Would he still be fast enough to win a race like the Met Mile? A Met Mile—BC Mile double would be historic for sure; the ultimate in versatility, speed, and class. Look how fast everyone has forgotten his defeat on Keeneland’s wet Polytrack.
In the meantime, I will not give that another second of thought. It’s not up to me to be concerned how history treats Wise Dan. I only know I saw greatness last Saturday; unconditional greatness. I turned on the switch and the machine went on…again.