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

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