John Velazquez was in a hurry all day at Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday.
After leading five-year-old gelding Wise Dan across the finish line, and pausing briefly to speak to those gathered in the winner’s circle, Velazquez was off to the races again, announcing “I have a flight to catch!”
Running after the hall-of-fame rider as he tread across gravel, poly, and turf, one journalist determined to talk tactics pulled up alongside.
“My strategy was to get him to relax the first part of the race, that’s what I worried about with him more than anything else,” said Velazquez, without breaking stride.
“We got him relaxed and down the stretch just let him rock-and-roll, that’s it.”
And roll he did.
At the final turn of the RICOH Woodbine Mile, the heavy favourite surged ahead of early leaders Worthadd and Arctic Fern and powered across the finish line to take the $600,000 first prize.
Coming in with 1-2 odds, Wise Dan lived up to the hype with an impressive win over second-place finisher Hunters Bay by a smooth three and one-quarter lengths.
The final time was 1:34.07 for a horse that came into Woodbine ranked second on the NTRA’s list of North America’s top thoroughbreds in training, his third win in four starts this year.
“What a nice horse,” Velazquez said earlier to the crowd assembled in the winner’s circle. “For a horse to do this race after race and come back the way he does things is incredible. It’s nice to be on him.
“I think he’s learned the more he races. He’s learning. He’s allowing me to get him back a little bit and get him relaxed behind the horses. When he does that he is a much better horse.”
Velazquez is no newcomer to the Woodbine Mile, having won the event in 2005 aboard Leroidesanimaux and Riviera in 2000.
Coming off a recent induction into the U.S. Horse Racing Hall of Fame celebrating his 20-year career, and a victory at this years’ Belmont Stakes with Union Rags, Velazquez seems to never stop running.
Wise Dan becomes the second consecutive horse trained by Charles Lopestri to win the Woodbine Mile after Turallure took top place last year.
The Ricoh Woodbine Mile is a Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ event, meaning Wise Dan earned his place and a free ticket into the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Nov. 3 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, California.
Emma-Jayne Wilson won her 1,000th career victory aboard D’wildcat Gold in the first race of the day, but came up short as rider of second-place Hunters Bay in the feature.
“I could see Johnny V sitting so quiet on Wise Dan,” Wilson said. “I thought we’d have a hard time to catch him, but he (Hunters Bay) gave it everything he could.”
Wise Dan became only the fourth post-time favourite to win the Woodbine Mile in its 15-year history. He also was the shortest-priced winner ($3.10) eclipsing former Velazquez-mount Leroidesanimaux’s payoff of $3.30 in 2005.
“Yes, he is an unbelievable horse,” said owner Morton Fink. “After 40 years of trying, it’s an incredible feeling. I think he is good on anything as he’s proved, but I think he is a little better on the grass.
“But you can’t turn down a Classic.”