Wise Dan achieves historic sweep as Horse of the Year
Wise Dan achieves historic sweep as Horse of the Year
Morton Fink's homebred WISE DAN became the first since Hall of Famer John Henry to sweep the Horse of the Year, champion older male and champion turf male titles at Saturday night's 42nd annual Eclipse Awards gala at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida.
Honored for his near-perfect 2012 campaign, Wise Dan garnered 194 first-place votes for Horse of the Year, dominating his nearest competitor, champion three-year-old male I'll Have Another, with 30 supporters.
The Charles Lopresti charge was unbeaten from four starts on the turf last season, and comfortably won that divisional Eclipse by a tally of 170-78 over principal rival Little Mike. Each contender had a resume worthy of a championship in any typical year -- a trio of Grade 1 trophies in his cabinet, highlighted by record-setting victories in the Breeders' Cup Mile and Turf, respectively. But Wise Dan's perfection trumped the competing claims of Little Mike, whose scorecard was blotted by three losses.
More hotly contested was the vote for champion older male, a title most associated with the top performer in that category on the traditional American surface, dirt. Although Wise Dan is a triple-surface threat who is effective on dirt and synthetic as well, he spent the bulk of his time on the grass in 2012. He was also up against a serious contender with an Eclipse-caliber profile on dirt -- Fort Larned, whose productive campaign featured victories in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap and the Breeders' Cup Classic.
But the electorate preferred Wise Dan over Fort Larned in the older male division by a 139-109 vote. This marks the third time in the last four years that the champion older male was rewarded for his prowess on a surface other than dirt, the others being Gio Ponti (2009) and Acclamation (2011).
The first Horse of the Year since Kotashaan (1993) to race primarily on turf, Wise Dan also ranks as the first gelding since John Henry (1981/1984) to win the golden statuette.
Wise Dan and John Henry are the only champions to achieve the remarkable trifecta of Horse of the Year, champion older male and turf male since the Eclipse era commenced in 1971. John Henry turned his triple in 1981; when regaining Horse of the Year status in 1984, he won the turf, but not older male, Eclipse.
At the same time, Wise Dan was emulating his ancestor Round Table, who was the first to reign as Horse of the Year, champion handicap horse and champion grass horse under the old voting system in 1958. Making the genetic link even stronger, Wise Dan is inbred to Round Table 5 x 4.
Two other Hall of Famers, Dr. Fager (1968) and Fort Marcy (1970), accomplished the triple, albeit in split decisions. Dr. Fager was accorded the 1968 grass title by Daily Racing Form (DRF), with the Thoroughbred Racing Associations (TRA) siding with Fort Marcy. In 1970, the DRF bestowed all three crowns on Fort Marcy, but the TRA named Personality Horse of the Year and Nodouble champion handicap horse.
Wise Dan ended 2011 on a white-hot note, rolling to a four-length victory in the Grade 2 Fayette over Keeneland's Polytrack and a 3 3/4-length score in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on the dirt at Churchill Downs. Those performances marked him out as a horse of exciting potential for 2012, and Wise Dan wasted no time in fulfilling it.
In a sensational reappearance in the Grade 3 Ben Ali back on the Keeneland Polytrack, Wise Dan seized command early and widened his advantage at every call, ultimately crossing the wire 10 1/2 lengths clear. The visual impression was confirmed by the clock: he sizzled to a new track record of 1:46 3/5 for 1 1/8 miles.
Wise Dan reverted to the Churchill dirt next time out for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. But unlike his Clark effort from the prior November, he endured a troubled trip under the top weight of 123 pounds, and came up just short of beating Ron the Greek. That loss -- by a scant head -- was the margin separating him from a perfect season.
Lopresti decided to switch Wise Dan to the turf at Saratoga. He had raced on turf just twice previously in 2011, with mixed results. A dynamite winner of Churchill's Grade 2 Firecracker in his experiment on the surface, Wise Dan didn't run up to that level when fourth to Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile during Keeneland's 2011 fall meet.
The older, stronger model of Wise Dan, however, was a different proposition. After a dazzling five-furlong bullet in :58 2/5 over the Oklahoma training turf, he lined up in the Grade 2 Fourstardave at the Spa. Wise Dan didn't have a textbook passage, but it didn't matter. Despite hitting the gate at the start, and having to await room on the inside, he burst through on the rail and drew off by five lengths.
Wise Dan was expected to face a stiffer test in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, courtesy of European shipper Cityscape. It turned out to be no contest at all. Always cruising on the bridle, Wise Dan effortlessly opened up by 3 1/4 lengths.
Lopresti now faced a dilemma: should he train up to the Breeders' Cup, or run again in the Shadwell Turf Mile? Wise Dan answered the question himself, for he was too exuberant to be put on hold. Lopresti correctly read the signal, and yet another eye-catching display was in the offing. Wise Dan blew his rivals away turning for home and coasted to a 2 1/4-length score, relegating a Grade 1 race into a paid workout.
Connections had another decision to make: should he stick to turf for the Mile, or return to dirt for the Classic? Fink and Lopresti reportedly didn't have a tough time siding with the Mile. Not only had he won three straight going a mile on turf, but Lopresti also voiced concern about how Wise Dan might handle the Santa Anita dirt.
The Mile wasn't exactly a cakewalk on paper, either. The European Excelebration had been the perennial runner-up to the unconquerable Frankel, and fellow international raider Moonlight Cloud, champion Animal Kingdom, and dangerous front runner Obviously all had respectable credentials. But none could hold a candle to Wise Dan.
Collaring Obviously just past the eighth-pole, Wise Dan blithely extended his winning streak to four. So easily did he appear to be traveling that only afterward was it clear how fast he had gone: Wise Dan blitzed to a new course (and Breeders' Cup Mile) record of 1:31.78.
His Breeders' Cup heroics improved his 2012 record to 6-5-1-0, $2,622,037, and his career resume stands at 20-13-1-0, $3,541,638. Unraced at two, Wise Dan tipped his hand in his sophomore year. He broke his maiden by 15 1/4 lengths in his second start at Turfway Park, followed up promptly in an entry-level optional claimer in the Churchill slop, and returned from a five-month layoff to land the Grade 3 Phoenix in his stakes debut. Trying the 2010 Breeders' Cup Sprint in only his fifth lifetime start, he checked in a creditable sixth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Big Drama.
Wise Dan took a few starts to get his act together in 2011, but the sleeping giant woke up in the Firecracker. He went on to add the Presque Isle Mile on Tapeta, and briefly halted his progress in that fall's Shadwell, only to resume it with a vengeance in the aforementioned Fayette and Clark.
Befitting a Horse of the Year campaigned by an octogenarian, Wise Dan has a sentimental story. He is both the pinnacle, and summary, of Fink's racing and breeding enterprise that spans 40 years.
Fink co-owned sire Wiseman's Ferry, who captured the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby and Grade 3 West Virginia Derby in 2002. He purchased Wise Dan's dam, Lisa Danielle, for $29,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 1995. A daughter of South African great Wolf Power, Lisa Danielle won only once from seven starts, and didn't stand out as a broodmare prospect. But Fink had named her after his granddaughter, and so kept her.
Lisa Danielle rewarded him by producing three stakes winners -- the filly Our Royal Dancer, herself the dam of multiple Argentinean Group 2-placed Bailando Voy; multiple Grade 2 hero Successful Dan, who set a track record at Churchill Downs when winning the Grade 2 Alysheba last May; and now the 2012 Horse of the Year.
Lisa Danielle is in turn a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Carsona, who has produced Grade 2 victor Siphon City. This is the family of German Group 1-winning highweight Scalo, and further back, French champion, classic winner and noted sire *Val de Loir as well as dual classic heroine and Irish champion *Valoris II.
Aside from his aforementioned inbreeding to Round Table, Wise Dan's pedigree features a similar duplication to another fantastically versatile legend, 1972-73 Horse of the Year Secretariat.
As a gelding who just turned six years old, Wise Dan figures to be a towering presence on the racetrack for the foreseeable future. Regular rider John Velazquez thinks so highly of him that he would "go to China" to maintain the mount, as retired Hall of Famer-turned-agent Angel Cordero had quipped.
With connections having little enthusiasm for foreign ventures, Velazquez won't have to go that far. Lopresti expects to launch Wise Dan's 2013 campaign in the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile over the Keeneland turf on April 12, but dirt could also be in the long-range forecast.
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