Wise Dan in his stall at Saratoga as he prepares for his return. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
His overriding concern after colic surgery was performed on the two-time defending Horse of the Year on May 16 was to do everything possible to make certain the 7-year-old gelding returned to being healthy and happy.
Once that happened, he very slowly worked Wise Dan back into peak condition, shaping and reshaping a schedule that fit the horse rather than pressing the horse to meet a predetermined plan.
Then, and only then, did LoPresti give any brief thought to an abbreviated campaign that might give the son of Wiseman’s Ferry a shot at becoming only the second runner to sweep Horse of the Year honors for three successive seasons. Forego (1974-76) is the only other Thoroughbred to accomplish that since Ack Ack was the first to be named Horse of the Year, in 1971.
“I’m just glad that he’s alive and we’ve got a chance to run him back,” said LoPresti. “Horse of the Year really hasn’t – I haven’t even thought about that much at this point.”
Veterinarians closely monitored Wise Dan throughout his comeback. He was given three-and-a-half weeks off after his operation. He was walking under tack four weeks out from surgery. Then it was back to the track for easy gallops that led to unpressured breezes.
“Works were slow in the beginning and I know everyone was concerned, but it was by design,” LoPresti said. “I didn’t want him to come out here and destroy the racetrack every day. You know, I wanted to bring him along slow.”
LoPresti’s initial target was the Fourstardave at Saratoga Race Course, a Grade 2 race Wise Dan had won the last two years. Again to his credit, the trainer abandoned that course of action when he realized that Wise Dan would benefit from more training.
“I was trying to make a race that he won last year and I realized that, you know, it’s just not going to happen,” he said. “We’re just a little bit short of where we need to be.”
WISE DAN WINNING THE 2013 FOURSTARDAVE
That led to Wise Dan’s entry into the $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap, another Grade 2 event, this Saturday at Saratoga. The gelding has turned in a series of promising breezes at the picturesque upstate New York venue. The first two were on turf with the last four on the main track. In the most recent of those, the aging star looked like a frisky colt again when he clicked off four furlongs in 47.92 seconds, seventh fastest of 101 horses to drill at that distance last Sunday.
Wise Dan, befitting his gaudy credentials, is to carry the top weight, at 127 pounds, in the Bernard Baruch. The race is one of four graded stakes being contested on Saturday at Saratoga. The $600,000 Woodward and the $500,000 Forego offer two Grade 1 events. The $300,000 Prioress holds Grade 2 status.
Wise Dan, a winner of 21 of 29 career starts who boasts earnings of $6,802,920 for owner Morton Fink, will have Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard when he leaves from post five as the 3-5 favorite. If all goes well, he will have at least one more start, if not two, leading to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. LoPresti did not rule out one more race after the Mile if Horse of the Year appears to be hanging in the balance.
LoPresti is careful not to get ahead of himself. He knows the Baruch will provide a stiff first test following such an extensive layoff. “Everybody tells me that it shouldn’t affect him what happened to him. I don’t think it’s affected him,” said LoPresti. “But, really and truly, you don’t know that until you run.”
Whatever the outcome, LoPresti will have the solace of knowing he did everything right. He put the horse before everything.