Beware the Wise Dan Curse

For all those with aspirations of winning either Horse of the Year or the Older Male title or the Male Grass title, there is a force out there even stronger than Eric Guillot’s voodoo dolls. It is the curse of Wise Dan.

Have you wondered why Game On Dude, known throughout his career for his consistency, was able to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2011 when it was held at Churchill Downs, but was badly beaten over his home track in 2012 and 2013, both times as the 6-5 favorite and both times for no apparent reason.

The difference between his first Classic and his second and third Classics is the presence of Wise Dan. In 2011, Wise Dan was basically a very good horse running mostly on synthetics and dirt and was not even close to being in the discussion for Horse of the Year. But in 2012, he emerged as a superstar at a mile on turf and was a viable Horse of the Year candidate, but needed both Game On Dude and leading grass horse Point of Entry to lose their respective Breeders’ Cup races. That’s when Game On Dude suddenly and for no apparent reason threw in a clunker, costing himself not only Horse of the Year, but the Older Male title, both of which went to Wise Dan. No one could explain this dramatic digression in form.

Also, Point of Entry winds up getting shuffled back to the rear of the field in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and closes like a rocket, but fails to catch Little Mike, who was not even considered a mile and a half horse. By losing by a half-length, Point of Entry cost himself any shot at Horse of the Year, and, like Game On Dude in the Older Male category, cost himself the grass championship to Wise Dan, who had everything work in his favor.

Even Ron the Greek, who had won the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap and was second in the Whitney and Oaklawn Handicap, had a good shot at the Older Male title, but could do no better than fourth in the Classic, beaten almost eight lengths.

In 2013, things would be different. Game On Dude had been spectacular winning the Santa Anita Handicap and Pacific Classic by the length of the stretch and had become only the second horse in history to sweep California’s three grade I stakes – Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic – in the same year. All he needed was a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory to cap off one of the greatest campaigns ever compiled by an older horse. Even a close second might have gotten him at least one of the titles.

So, what happens? Wise Dan has an almost mirror-image grass campaign as he did in 2012, putting himself in line once again for Horse of the Year, and Game On Dude, inexplicably not only turns in another horrible effort, he runs even worse than he did the year before, finishing ninth of 11 starters.

Once again, you had to ask, why did he run so poorly, even coming into the race this time as a fresh horse, skipping the Awesome Again Stakes? He certainly wasn’t washed up, considering he came back the following March to win his unprecedented third Big Cap in a scorching 1:58 flat, only a tick off Spectacular Bid’s track record. In that race, he defeated the one-two finishers of the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge.

Why was Game On Dude good enough to beat both those horses in the Big Cap, but finished 11 lengths behind them in the Classic? So far, no one has been able to come up with a viable answer.

Eliminating Game On Dude from Horse of the Year consideration still did not assure Wise Dan another title. If Princesss of Sylmar, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama Stakes, and Beldame Stakes, had traveled west and beaten Beholder and Royal Delta in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, many felt she had a big shot at the Horse of the Year title.

But similar to Game On Dude, this ultra consistent filly winds up running dead-last, not only costing herself Horse of the Year, but the 3-year-old filly title, which went to Beholder.

Some even felt Royal Delta had an outside shot at Horse of Year with a victory in the Distaff. But she also threw in a clunker, finishing fourth as the 7-5 favorite, beaten more than eight lengths.

Although Flat Out and defending Classic winner Fort Larned all had shots at the Older Male title had they won the Classic, and 3-year-olds Palace Malice and Will Take Charge would have been in the running for Horse of the Year with a Classic victory, all of them were beaten by Mucho Macho Man, who simply got started too late to get Horse of the Year or even the Older Male title. Ron the Greek, coming off a 6 3/4-length romp in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, didn’t even make it to Classic, suffering an injury after arriving at Santa Anita.

In two straight Breeders’ Cup, every single horse who threatened Wise Dan for an Eclipse Award ran well below their best form, and none of them appeared to have any excuses.

So, that brings us to 2014 and here we are again with another Game On Dude scenario. If Shared Belief wins the Classic and remains undefeated, he most likely would nail down Horse of the Year, even though Wise Dan still will get his share of votes if he wins his third Breeders’ Cup Mile. California Chrome also would most likely get Horse of the Year if he should win the Classic. Perhaps even Tonalist or Bayern would have an excellent chance, considering their exceptional campaigns.

Does this mean all four of those horses should beware of the fate that befell their predecessors who dared to challenge Wise Dan for year-end honors? Is Main Sequence, with three straight grade I victories, in danger of losing the Breeders’ Cup Turf and not even being considered for the Grass title? Based on what we’ve seen the past two years, bet on all these horses with extreme trepidation, regardless of how strong they look.

Although Eric Guillot has been stringing up little voodoo horsies to put a hex on Moreno’s rivals, perhaps the hex is on Moreno, who is in the running for the Older Male title. For if there is one thing we have learned, when an Eclipse Award is on the line, nothing is stronger than the curse of Wise Dan.

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