On one side of Saratoga Race Course, facing the Oklahoma training track, is the home of Palace Malice, currently the No. 1 ranked horse in America and favorite for Horse of the Year honors.
On the other side of the grandstand, facing the main track, is the home of Wise Dan, reigning two-time Horse of the Year.
Both horses can look out their window and watch the activity on their respective tracks. Both are kind, intelligent horses, but fierce competitors. Both are the best at what they do.
But that is where the similarities end. In age, color, markings, surface preference, and racing career, they are nothing alike.
It is looking more and more as if they will never meet in battle, unless Wise Dan returns to the dirt in the Woodward Stakes, which at this point appears to be a remote possibility at best.
Wise Dan’s career is what it is, and now that he is about to embark on a comeback at age 7 from colic surgery, he should be appreciated for what he does and what he’s accomplished and forget about what he could have or should have done over the past two years. My hope that he be given a chance for immortality by running in the Breeders’ Cup Classic or other top-class dirt races at least one more time has all but disappeared and I have accepted that.
It is time to live by Emerson’s words: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
If Wise Dan is not ready for a third attempt at the Fourstardave Handicap Aug. 9, he likely will point for the Aug. 30 Bernard Baruch Handicap. And it was Baruch who echoed Emerson’s words: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.”
Those are the words trainer Charlie LoPresti and owner Morton Fink have been living by, and I will be the first to commend them for not paying attention to all those, myself included, who yearned for Wise Dan to try to elevate himself into the realm of the all-time great geldings, such as Kelso, Forego, and John Henry. That has not been their priority. They have remained true to themselves and to their horse. And while they chose not to aim for the galaxy, there certainly is nothing wrong with being considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, ever at what you do.
I have maintained over the past year and a half that Wise Dan is unbeatable at a mile on the grass, and not only has he justified that comment, he has done it in a variety of ways--winning comfortably, breaking course records, overcoming trouble, handling bog-like surfaces, and passing those rare gut checks when he had to reach deep down inside himself. He is a pure winning machine; one of the purest anyone has ever seen. His long frame and the energy he is able to generate, especially from his hind end, demonstrates just what a powerful and efficient mover he is. To claim a horse is unbeatable is the greatest compliment one can give, because as the saying goes, “It takes a horse to make a person feel like an ass.”
No one knows for sure how Wise Dan will return at his age from fairly recent surgery. The fact that he’s back working and pointing for an Aug. 9 return only seven weeks after his surgery says a great deal about the horse. When they went in to perform the emergency surgery they discovered that the problem had corrected itself, which in some ways also says a lot about the old boy’s toughness and his healing powers.
Whether he comes back in the Fourstardave or the Bernard Baruch, it will be a memorable occasion, and I hope to be there to record that entire day, from dawn until dusk. Saratoga has provided some emotional moments in its long history, the most recent being Rachel Alexandra’s gut-wrenching victory in the Woodward Stakes, and a triumphant return by Wise Dan would rank right up there.
There are no more ‘what might have beens’ with Wise Dan, just ‘what is.’ It looked for a while as if we were going to lose him for an extended period of time, considering the initial severity of his condition and not knowing for sure if he would ever make it back. Now that he is back already and barely missed a beat, it is time to appreciate the horse for what he is and be grateful every time he steps on to the track--whatever race it may be.