A Horse For Any Course: Wise Dan

Wise Dan under Damien Rock at Keeneland Sept. 12, 2012 (C. Novak)

LEXINGTON, KY—Early morning at Keeneland Race Course, a hint of rapidly-approaching autumn in the air. One chestnut gelding sauntered through a low-key gate-schooling session. One kind trainer, fingers crossed, was counting down the hours until raceday. One thing we know for sure about the runner they call Wise Dan:

"He can run on anything," Charlie Lopresti remarked.

The surface of choice this weekend is an emerald swath of Canadian lawn, the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile (gr. IT) looming at Woodbine Racetrack as Sept. 16 draws near. The surface of the morning was Polytrack, that synthetic combination on the Lexington oval where 5-year-old Wise Dan makes his training home when not collecting prize money at other locations, such as Churchill Downs (where the surface is good old dirt, a muted shade of reddish-brown).

Horses for courses, the idiom goes. But Wise Dan, with earnings of $1,394,418 in 17 starts, trains amiably over all kinds of ground—and wins at every racetrack he's ever visited. That's five different ovals, three starts on grass, seven on dirt, and seven on synthetic surfaces. His latest of 10 victories, the Aug. 11 Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT), was a five-length conquest of top turf contenders such as Get Stormy accomplished in sparkling fashion on a yielding Saratoga turf course.

Wise Dan wins the Aug. 11 Fourstardave (Coglianese Photo) 

Before that, a June 16 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) run on Churchill soil was almost his, lost by just a head to multiple grade I winner Ron the Greek. One race prior? Oh, yes, a 10 1/2-length romp over the same track he walked today, Keeneland's 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) run in a record 1:46.63 on April 22.

Poly? I got this. Wise Dan's record-setting Ben Ali run (Coday Photography)

"I didn't know how he'd handle the soft turf," Lopresti said of the Fourstardave, run on a rainy Saturday. "I don't know how he'll handle the one-turn mile at Woodbine. And considering how long that stretch is, he might get a little bit confused, because it's a long one, alright—but I said that about Turallure last year, and he got there."

Last year, Lopresti took the Woodbine Mile with Wise Dan's stablemate at odds of 6-1. It was Turallure's debut at Woodbine coming from Saratoga off an Aug. 26 Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT) win. Wise Dan was between starts at that time, having taken the July 4 Firecracker Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill on the dirt en route to a Sept. 9 score in the Presque Isle Mile on the all-weather track at Presque Isle Downs. Other wins from Wise Dan last season included the Fayette Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland and the Clark Handicap (gr. I) back beneath the Twin Spires.

Dirt? No problem! Wise Dan takes the 2011 Clark (Reed Palmer Photography)

The Woodbine Mile, a Breeders' Cup Challenge event which promises the winner an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park, will be just the fourth start of 2012 for the son of Wiseman's Ferry, who is seeking his third victory of the year for owner-breeder Morton Fink. Wise Dan benefits from Lopresti's judicious placing, even while his half-brother, 6-year-old Successful Dan, continues to recover from a filling in his left front pastern developed during the Saratoga meet that caused him to miss the Whitney Invitational (gr. I). Originally, Lopresti charted separate paths for Wise Dan and Successful Dan, and because he stuck to his guns even when tempted to use Wise Dan as a substitute, the Woodbine Mile victory could be his again.

Wise Dan in Saratoga with Kelly Wheeler after winning the Fourstardave (C. Novak)

"Everybody said he would have won the Woodward at Saratoga," the trainer remarked. "They begged me to run him in the Woodward, you know, 'He would have won the Woodward, he would have won the Whitney!' But when I went up to Saratoga, I had a game plan, and when I took him and breezed him over the turf a couple times, how could I change midstream? He never even breezed over the Saratoga dirt. So I wouldn't put him in the Whitney, I stuck to my plan, and he won that race. I wasn't going to bring him back in two weeks or two and a half weeks and run him in the Woodward. He'd done so well on the grass, I was just going to keep him on the grass.

"I try to space his races out and give him the best races I can to look forward to the end of the year," Lopresti continued. "He's a gelding and he has one future, and that's to race, and I want to run him wherever I think he's got the best chance to win. All I care about is if my horse is doing good."

Wise Dan at Keeneland Sept. 12, 2012 (C Novak)

Judging from appearances at Keeneland, Wise Dan is doing great. His red coat glistened in the morning sun and he went about his training tasks with professional demeanor. According to Kelly Wheeler, who has worked for Lopresti at Saratoga and Keeneland, this is typical. Wise Dan carries himself with an athlete's focus and grace.

"He's a really classy horse, he's all business; he's just a really cool horse to be around," Wheeler said. "Even when he's walking around the barn, he's kind of in his zone. He's a very unique horse, I think. You don't get a lot like that, so unflappable. I don't think I've ever seen him get upset about anything except maybe one time, at Saratoga, they took him to the paddock to school and he got mad because he had to come back home and didn't get to run."

After gate schooling, Wise Dan is ready to ship to Woodbine (C. Novak)

With raceday drawing near, Wise Dan has been put into maintenance mode. He turned in his final pre-race move, six furlongs in 1:13 at Keeneland Sept. 5, his first work since a blazing Aug. 24 move in :45.80 over the Saratoga turf. He ships to Woodbine Thursday afternoon.   

"Yesterday Damien galloped him about a mile and a half, and then we let him run the last three-eighths of a mile just to put a little wind in him," Lopresti said. "I didn't want to do too much since he's got to ship and everything. If he's not fit enough now, nothing's going to make him fitter. It's not a matter of fitness, it's a matter of getting a good trip and if he likes the course. But I think he likes about anything; seems that way to me, anyway."

Click Here For More Photos of a Morning With Wise Dan.

Watch Wise Dan win the Fourstardave (gr. IIT) at Saratoga


Leave a Comment:

Dr Drunkinbum

Beautiful article, beautiful horse. Excellent photojournalism. Love the muscle definition on Wise Dan in these photos on every surface. Wouldn't that be great if he could win the WB mile, and then the BC Mile. Personally I have no doubt that going turf is the right decision.

12 Sep 2012 11:24 PM
Love 'em all

Love the article and all the wonderful pics, Ms. Novak.  

Obviously, Wise Dan has a very wise trainer .... and it shows.  Mr. Lopresti's comments tell me that this horse really is his main concern.  Wise Dan loves to run and will run on anything.  I'd say those two were meant for each other ... and it shows.  Can't beat that.

I'll be rooting for Wise Dan and Mr. Lopresti on Sunday, which just happens to be my birthday.  

Go out there and show 'em how it's done, Wise Dan!  Love that gelding.

13 Sep 2012 9:59 AM
lunar spook

never paid attention to this horse up close , great coat and muscle tone , good looking animal !

13 Sep 2012 11:17 AM
Bill Rinker

Loved the article, well done. I've always been a fan of Wise Dan, the first and second to last picture say it all for me, such athleticism and personality it must be something special to work with him. It is really nice to read the comments from Mr. Lopresti, and the people around him. This is what our sport is all about, and what it should be.

13 Sep 2012 12:24 PM

Very nice article. I'll make a bold prediction here: Wise Dan will keep winning impressively for the remainder of the season and cop the 2012 HOTY award (provided he stays sound, of course).

13 Sep 2012 12:55 PM
Claire Novak

Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I think this guy flies a little under the radar but he's a really cool horse. Ranagulzion, if he put together the Woodbine Mile, a Breeders' Cup victory, and a win in the Clark at the end of the year, he'd have my vote. Huge fan of any surface, anywhere. And Lopresti is a gem.

13 Sep 2012 3:06 PM
lunar spook

RANAGULZION- I love wise dan, but his horse of the year chances will go up in smoke at woodbine this weekend , he will be chasing cityscape and worthadd home !

13 Sep 2012 4:29 PM
Jason Shandler

Claire: I got through the first 1000 words, then fell asleep. I wrote about this horse twice a year ago, I guess you're running out of material already. Email me and I'll give you some ideas on how to spice up the blog. Judging by the number of comments, you need it. Ha!

Hello everyone. Hope you all are doing well. Looks like I got out of racing at just the right time, huh? What a boring second half!

13 Sep 2012 10:48 PM
Claire Novak

Hey Punk (Jason knows who this refers to): The reason there aren't 57,000 comments is because people agree with me and therefore don't find a need to rebut my good, solid common sense. It is a pleasant and entertaining read one will find here, not one that makes you want to tear your hair out and bash in your computer screen with a hammer.

14 Sep 2012 10:05 AM
Jason Shandler

Yeah, that sounds about right Claire. Or, maybe your writing fails to create a spark, reads like a feature and not a blog, and few are reading/commenting as a result? Again, I'm  available for advice anytime.

15 Sep 2012 4:15 PM
Love 'em all

YIPPEE!  Wise Dan wins easily, of course, of course!


Congrats to Wise Dan, JV and Mr. Lopresti .... oh happy day!

We need another article on Wise Dan, the Woodbine winner, Ms. Novak

16 Sep 2012 6:30 PM

Hey, Claire

  I read Blood Horse blogs often but comment only occasionally. I don't like it when people get nasty, or start insulting a HORSE, of all ridiculous things.  Your writing is excellent and I enjoyed this article and the pictures that went with it. A good horse deserves more than one or two articles in his career, so keep us up on this lovely gelding's adventures.

Let's leave the nastiness to politics (God help us) and enjoy the beautiful horses.  

16 Sep 2012 6:32 PM

Congratulations to the connections of Wise Dan. He ran a spectacular race, and he wasn't being ridden much the last 50 yards or so.

Claire, I enjoyed your article very much. Keep up the good work!

16 Sep 2012 6:53 PM
Karen in Indiana

And Claire, because of that difference, I actually read your blogs.

16 Sep 2012 8:45 PM
Tiara Terces

Since Frankel will not leave England and will continue to face small fields, I would like to see the very unlikely.  Mr. Fink owns a great horse.  He travels, he runs over every surface.  Therefore, I would like to see Wise Dan sent to England to face Frankel.  Then Frankel will get a test which I hope he cannot handle.  If he can, so be it.  Frankel should  have to earn his fancy ratings against our best before he is crowned the best.  Since he didn't even dare to face Black Caviar or cross the channel for the Arc, it is quite possible he is overrated.

16 Sep 2012 8:52 PM

Uh, speakin' of "smoke" Lunar Spook, looks like Wise Dan did smoke um this weekend at Woodbine. Horse of the year, that would be nice. Hope Wise Dan finishes out the year well. I loved I'll Have Another, but don't want to see the award go to another pony who didn't survive the year. We need to start placing more value on horses being sturdy, strong, and sound. Besides, I would prefer the honors go to a more deserving owner. My opinion only. So, go Wise Dan!

17 Sep 2012 3:56 AM
Dr Drunkinbum


  Thanks for the timely and insightful article. It made the race that much more enjoyable. What a powerhouse Wise Dan is. Love him at a mile on the turf. He sure has a distinct "racing muscle."  Everyone in the field looked ready to run but Hunter's Bay looked fantastic physically so I was glad to see him get the place.

17 Sep 2012 9:32 PM
lunar spook

KSWEATMAN9- Remember this statement cuz you will not often here it , i was wrong , im manning up and admitting it , i really thought it would be a cityscape worthadd exacta with wise dan 3rd , but trust me i will be back , lol!

18 Sep 2012 9:25 AM

Anyone read Profitable Horse Racing Handicapping?

Its on amazon...B0096EFSLC is the ID google it??

Any good?

18 Sep 2012 2:44 PM
Lammtarra's Arc

I made it to woodbine for Mile day, and Hunter's Bay look awesome in the walking ring.  but wise Dan was very very impressive, and Cityscape didn't seem to like the going for some reason, because he has stayed before, and surprised he flattened out mid stretch. But credit to wise Dan, and his connections for being ready!.

18 Sep 2012 6:38 PM
Lammtarra's Arc

This decades  John henry!

18 Sep 2012 6:39 PM

I love how the owner and trainer are campaigning Wise Dan: picking his races around the country, but not losing sight of what is best for the horse!  He is placed perfectly, and I hope he has a great fall campaign.

I am rooting for the horse and his connections:  all are very classy, and are great examples of the best in horse racing!

18 Sep 2012 8:28 PM
Love 'em all

Wise Dan did it again!!  He won the Shadwell today!  

Congrats to WD and Lezcano!  Oh happy day!  

Love that gelding!

06 Oct 2012 6:08 PM

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