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Blog - RACING

Wise Dan prevailed in the Firecracker Handicap under a steady rain on Saturday night at Churchill Downs. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)

With the 2013 Triple Crown in the rearview mirror, Saturday’s racing action provided a taste of what might be in store for the second season and what a tasty appetizer it was for fans.

In addition to a pair of Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races that provided the winner with an automatic entry to the World Championships in November at Santa Anita Park, reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan showed fans that his greatness is as much determination as it is dazzling turn of foot and the first potential major player for the 2014 Triple Crown stepped forward.

I know, I know, it’s way too early to be talking about the 2014 classics when we’ve barely had time to digest the 2013 Triple Crown, but Debt Ceiling was very impressive in winning the Bashford Manor Stakes on Saturday night at Churchill Downs. He rolled to a 2 ¾-length romp in the slop at Churchill Downs to win the Grade 2 race and improve to three wins in as many races by a combined margin of 9 ¾ lengths.

DEBT CEILING ROLLED IN BASHFORD MANOR

Debt Ceiling Inside -Eclipse

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Funny thing about the Bashford Manor was that I had visions of Corinthian’s 2007 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile win on the sloppy track at Monmouth when his son My Corinthian took charge in the Bashford Manor and looked to be running very nicely on the lead. Then Debt Ceiling absolutely inhaled him on the turn and pulled away in the stretch. That eye-catching move – I’m also a sucker for Maryland/Delaware/Pennsylvania horses and he won his first two starts in Maryland – gave me my first 2014 Derby-related goosebump.

Debt Ceiling does not possess the classic Derby pedigree but his sire, Discreet Cat, was a very talented miler who won the United Arab Emirates Derby at about 1 1/8 miles. I do think distance questions might limit this colt’s ceiling (I know, lame pun). His dam (mother) and grandam (maternal grandmother) both were stakes winners but were mainly sprinters.

Regardless, this is one 2-year-old to keep an eye on and it’s really never too early to talk Derby, is it? Debt Ceiling’s owner, Tim O’Donohue, doesn’t think so.

“Who knows?” O’Donohue said after the Bashford Manor. “It’s a little early, but you can always dream.”

Back to the headliner of the weekend: Wise Dan. What impressed me most about his win on Saturday night in a driving rain at Churchill Downs was his unyielding determination.

The 6-year-old Wiseman’s Ferry gelding was giving from 11 to 14 pounds to the opposition on testing, rain-soaked turf and, let’s be clear, his challengers did everything they could to keep him hemmed in on the inside from the backstretch into the stretch. There was nothing at all dirty about the tactics, this was just competitive race riding where jockeys try to gain an advantage over the most-accomplished horse in the field.

In this case, Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard Lea race alongside Wise Dan and made sure he didn’t have room to move outside and around the pacesetter on the turn when the heavy favorite was absolutely begging jockey John Velazquez to cut him loose. Wise Dan was then forced to slip through inside pacesetter Seruni along the hedge at the top of the stretch and Seruni’s rider Corey Lanerie made things very tight on the inside for the champ. But Wise Dan did what great horses do … he overcame the weight disadvantage, the downpour, the traffic trouble, bobbling a bit in the stretch and everything else thrown at him to win easily.

WISE DAN (middle) ENCOUNTERED TRAFFIC THROUGHOUT THE FIRECRACKER

Dan Inside -Eclipse

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

“I had to work my way out. If you watch the head-on, he brushes up against the bushes and he even jumped right at the eighth-pole,” Velazquez said. “By the sixteenth-pole, though, he got through. He’s just a very good horse. I know he can handle it when things get tight. He’s big enough to push his way through. I’ve ridden him that way before and I wasn’t worried about it.”

Wise Dan now has three wins in as many starts this year after winning five of six races last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Mile, en route to Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year, champion turf male and champion older male.

Wise Dan has 10 victories and one second from his last 11 races with the wins coming on dirt, grass, and synthetic surfaces. Saturday night’s race, however, was one that really had trainer Charlie LoPresti concerned.

“I’m just glad he got it done,” LoPresti said. “I had been worried about the weights. It wasn’t so much the weight on him, but the spread. The first thing I said to Johnny (Velazquez) was, ‘Is he OK?’ because it wasn’t a pretty race. We got to hope he comes back good. Now that it’s over I can tell you I was worried. I’m proud of him. He’s a pretty amazing horse.”

One of the horses Wise Dan defeated in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile also looks to be in fine form in 2013. Obviously, an Irish-bred 5-year-old gelding, dominated in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes with a front-running 3 ¼-length runaway. Pressed through a brisk opening quarter in the one-mile turf race, Obviously settled into a nice rhythm under Joe Talamo, flashed his extremely high cruising speed and left four opponents in his wake.

The Shoemaker Mile win gave trainer Mike Mitchell his 900th career win at Hollywood Park. It also punched Obviously’s return ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile a “Win and You’re In” challenge series race and solidified his status as Southern California’s top grass miler.

OBVIOUSLY SURGED AWAY TO WIN SHOEMAKER MILE

Obviously -inside -eclipse

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Obviously finished third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, but with runner-up Animal Kingdom retired and Wise Dan’s connections considering the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Mile could be ripe for Obviously’s picking in November. He has five wins, one second, and one third in his last seven races.

Another gelding who punched his Breeders’ Cup ticket on Saturday was Centralinteligence, whose Triple Bend Handicap win earned him a starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The 3 ½-length Triple Bend win was a career-best effort for the 5-year-old by 2004 Kentucky Derby-Preakness  winner Smarty Jones.

Centralinteligence three best performances in stakes all came at Hollywood Park on the synthetic surface, but he does own two wins in three races at Santa Anita Park, host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

“This year we’re going to point for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint,” Centralinteligence’s trainer, Ron Ellis, said. “This was our test today to show if he was good enough to keep pace with some good sprinters. You won’t see him run again until the fall meet at Santa Anita.” 

CENTRALINTELIGENCE ROMPED IN TRIPLE BEND

Centralinteligence -inside -Eclipse

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire


Image Description

Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

Image Description

Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

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