Blue Grass Diaries: Dazzling Dan

Events / Travel

Maker’s 46 Mile day is one of my favorite days at Keeneland Race Couse – not only is it a great sign that spring is finally here, but it’s a fantastic day of racing; and in the last two year’s it’s starred my very favorite racehorse, Wise Dan.

Wise Dan won the Maker’s 46 Mile last year, and I was very hopeful to see a repeat performance in the 2014 edition.

When I woke up this morning, I was a little nervous (aside from my usual “Danxiety” – my term for the jitters that plague me every time Wise Dan runs) because the forecast called for monsoon-style rain. But all was not lost, as I had once again hauled a serious pair of boots to the track with me – that always seems to stop bad weather in its tracks, and today was no exception.

Because even though there was a brief shower when I arrived at Keeneland, by the time the first race rolled around it was a perfectly beautiful afternoon.

As the races began, I was once again struck with a deep appreciation for the beauty and tradition of Keeneland. The track is always packed with fans who come out for a great day of racing, and they are treated to amazing competition and a parade of beautiful horses.  It’s the sights of Keeneland that bring long-time fans and new visitors to the historic track, and today they were treated to a veritable feast of pageantry.

Speaking of first-time visitors: if you’re new to Keeneland or to racing in general and want to make a wager while you’re here, the track has a legion of “Betologists,” who are here to help you understand the intricacies of handicapping. All you need to do is find one of the men or women who are dressed like the fellow below, and he or she will be happy to help you out!

I was really happy today to see jockey John Velazquez back in action. He was sidelined with an injury during the 2013 Breeders’ Cup, so having him back at Keeneland this spring is a real treat.

Time flew by as I was taking in the ambiance at Keeneland, and before I knew it the time had come for the Maker’s 46 Mile and my guy Wise Dan. I wasn’t the only one excited to see him; as I waited in the paddock for the two-time Horse of the Year to emerge, fans lined the walls surrounding the enclosure to catch sight of the horse himself.

And finally we were all treated to the main event: the arrival of the competitors. As Wise Dan strolled in, fans began cheering.

He was surrounded by media from the moment he set his hooves in the paddock. Videographers and photographers swarmed him, as did admirers armed with smartphones.

The hubbub did affect the normally laid-back Dan just a little; as he was being saddled, he threw his head up and backed away from his personal paparazzi.

But with a few reassuring pats from his caretakers, he soon settled down and was focused on the task at hand.

One of my favorite moments of the day came just after that. When Wise Dan’s owners - an adorable older couple - Morton and Elaine Fink entered the paddock, they were met with shouts of support. One fan called to them, “Let’s win this race two times!” That earned a thumbs-up from Mr. Fink and a grin from Mrs. Fink.

Then another fan on the other side of the walkway cried, “Forget that! Let’s make it four in a row!” This earned a long-distance fist-bump from Mr. Fink:

I love them.

With that, it was time for the Makers 46 contenders to head to the track to warm up before the race. Wise Dan was calm and collected, parading in front of his fans.

Finally, it was race time! My heart was in my throat as the horses came out of the gate. I just wanted a safe trip for Dan, although I was fine with a win if that’s what the Racing Gods had in mind.

As the horses thundered past the Keeneland grandstand for the first time, the crowd was roaring.

I was nervous; throughout the backstretch, Wise Dan was blocked behind a wall of horses and I kept up a running diatribe to my friend and co-worker Melissa Bauer-Herzog about how he was trapped and everything was awful. But Dan is the man for a reason, and as the Thoroughbreds rounded the turn for home the reigning Horse of the Year swung out wide around his competition and began storming toward the finish line.

And when he arrived there, he was in front of runner-up Kaigun by three-quarters of a length.

I was so ecstatic; by the look on his face, so was Wise Dan’s jockey John Velazquez, who had a huge grin on his face as he rode the champ back to the winner’s circle.

As Wise Dan and his connections posed to get their photo taken, I notices a few tears of joy among the people affiliated with the two-time winner of the Maker’s 46 Mile.

After jockey John Velazquez dismounted, he was met with a huge hug from trainer Charlie LoPresti. It was a hugely emotional moment, because Johnny had been unable to ride Wise Dan in his last race, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mile, due to his accident the day before. I think both men were happy to reunite in the winner’s circle for a fresh start in 2014.

Johnny also had a nice exchange with Mr. and Mrs. Fink during the trophy presentation. I would have loved to be able to eavesdrop on that conversation!

My final observation is this: I have absolutely no idea who this little boy is (I think he’s affiliated with one of Wise Dan’s humans) but, man, do I love his hat.

Thanks for joining me for Maker’s 46 Mile day here at Keeneland and for Wise Dan’s triumphant 2014 debut, and I’ll be back with all of the action from Saturday’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes!



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