The Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile
Keeneland / October 4 / Race 9 / 5:45 EDT
by TimeformUS Analyst Mike Beer
There haven't been many chinks revealed in Wise Dan's armor. The two-time reigning Horse of the Year seems to have gone from strength to strength during his long run of success, which has produced 18 wins from his last 21 starts dating back to the Grade 2 Firecracker, way back in July of 2011. Wise Dan has been defeated just twice on turf or synthetic during the 1,188 days between that Firecracker win and this Saturday's Shadwell Turf Mile. Both of those losses have occurred at Keeneland in the Shadwell. Does that mean anything at all? We doubt it. After all, Wise Dan did win this race convincingly back in 2012. We will note the oddity and move on.
It goes without saying that Wise Dan is the horse to beat in this race. We'll admit to being a little underwhelmed by the champ's last couple of races. Certainly, they have each resulted in close calls. Taking a positive view of both of those efforts, the Turf Classic at Churchill is a 9-furlong race, and that may not be Wise Dan's best game these days, if it ever was; and he was returning from colic surgery in Saratoga's Bernard Baruch. That he managed to prevail at all in those races says an awful lot about this horse, and to us, it did seem as though if they were going to get him, last time was the time. On the other hand, after running 14 straight TFUS Speed Figures of 120 or higher, Wise Dan has earned more modest figures of 112 and 116 for his last two starts. Figures like that still make him tough in this race, but they do not make him a standout.
His competition in this $1 million race, save Grand Arch and the hopelessly overmatched Two Notch Road, have all been defeated by Wise Dan at least once in the past, so they are all hoping that the champ has indeed lost a little off his fastball.
There is a fast pace projected by our Pace Projector, and the speedy Silver Max is expected to be cutting the fractions once again. The last horse to defeat Wise Dan, he did so in this race last year, which was taken off the turf the day of the race. The fast pace doesn't worry us with this horse. In fact, any race in which Silver Max is entered will project for a fast pace--because Silver Max is a fast horse, and his style is to go straight to the lead and use his speed as a weapon. We like that about him and think that he has the best chance to defeat Wise Dan in this race. The concern with Silver Max is his last race. He did not run his race at Saratoga last time, and he will need to bounce all the way back if he is going to be a factor on Saturday.
Optimizer returned from a layoff to put a scare into Wise Dan in the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga last time. After going off form, it appeared Optimizer may no longer be able to compete at the top level, but his new trainer deserves some credit for pulling that Baruch performance out of him. If you think he can take another step forward here, then you probably like his chances, but we are taking the opposite approach. Figuring he'll go off at a fraction of the 29/1 odds from his last start, we can stand against Optimizer in this race.
Kaigun is another who has fallen just short of running down the champ this year, though he was never a real threat when second-best in the Maker's 46 back in April. He is a rock-solid and consistent racehorse who has traveled to Gulfstream, Keeneland, Churchill, Belmont, Monmouth, and Woodbine already this year, and he has run every time. He did take advantage of a couple of fast paces recently at Woodbine, but he figures to catch another set-up here, and he will be running late.
Perhaps the horse who will garner the most attention as an alternative to Wise Dan is Seek Again. We get the appeal of this horse, and believe him to be one of the two entrants here with the best chance to pull off the upset. He has improved right along since arriving stateside, posting TFUS Speed Figures of 104-111-112-113, and he was narrowly defeated by Wise Dan back on Derby Day. His win most recently over several of these horses was his best effort to date, and he is at the point now where, assuming Wise Dan can't get back to the mid-120s speed figure level, he will continue to be a threat to that horse.
We are going to take a shot against Wise Dan in this race, simply because he has been running at a level lately that no longer makes him a layover against these horses. Silver Max is our top preference. Though we worry about his poor recent performance, we think he is the most dangerous rival for Wise Dan due to his abundant speed. To us, the best way to defeat Wise Dan is to get out in front of him and make him chase. That is Silver Max's game, and that is exactly how he defeated Wise Dan in this race last year.