It was like a déjà vu for racing fans: Wise Dan, the reigning US Horse of the Year and the most accomplished turf runner in North America, won his second $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile in as many years, easily defeating five foes Sunday afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack.
The win puts the six-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding’s earnings over $5-million – with no end in sight. It also gives him an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Mile, horse racing’s year end championship at Santa Anita in California with a $2 million purse, a race he won last year.
Wise Dan broke from post four and settled in third position down the Woodbine backstretch stalking the pace set by front-runners Excaper and Dimension.
Heading around the turn, jockey John Velazquez angled Wise Dan out and the big horse coasted home, in the record time of 1:31 3/5. Excaper and Dimension finished last and second last, respectively.
Owned by 84-year-old Morton Fink and trained by Kentucky-based conditioner Charles LoPresti, Wise Dan is proof that a good horse can come from anywhere: the stud fee for his sire, Wiseman’s Ferry, was a meager $8,500, and the big chestnut’s mare, Lisa Danielle, only won one race in her short career.
“I don’t have the right word to tell you how much it means to me,” said Fink, who also bred Wise Dan, after the race. “ He is a super horse, but he’s there because Charlie takes care of him.”
The Ricoh Woodbine Mile is one of Canada’s premier turf races, known to attract an international field of horses to run a one-turn mile over the E.P. Taylor turf course.
John Velazquez, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, boasts a record three wins from five starts in the Mile.
LoPresti has professed his love for Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor turf course. And it’s no wonder: the Keeneland, Ky.- based trainer has won the last two editions of the Mile, in 2011 with Turralure and Wise Dan in 2012.
Turallure is a nice horse, but Wise Dan could go down as one of horse racing’s all-time best.
“I feel like we have a great horse,” said Lopresti. “What he did today, I mean I say it every time he runs, what he does and how he does things, but today was really impressive.”
“I know those two front runners were going to go pretty quick up front, we knew that, and Johnny had so much horse, he told me, going down the backside, he was trying to talk him out of going with those horses, he does such a great job of that, and, I mean he had them measured around the turn, he took a deep breath, and Johnny said he backed him off the bridle a little bit and gave him a breather, and he had so much horse left, he couldn’t get him pulled up,” said LoPresti about the end of the race.
“There is no sign that he is slowing down, I can tell you that, for his age.”
A horse for the course, Wise Dan came into the race having won each of his last eight starts, all at a mile or 1 1/8-mile and all being Grade I or Grade II events. The last time Dan lost, he missed the winner’s circle by a head in the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June 2012.
Finishing second was Live Oak Plantation’s Za Approval, who came into the Mile off of a second in the Shoemaker Mile at Betfair Hollywood Park and wins in the Grade III Redbank and Grade III Appleton.
British horse Trade Storm finished third.
“I had a good trip,” said Garrett Gomez, jockey of Za Approval. “He was just no match for Wise Dan today. There’s no shame in that, he’s the best turf horse in North America.”
Trade Storm came across the pond for the Mile having been battling some of the best horses in Europe. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who took this year’s Preakness Stakes with Oxbow, rode the five-year-old for owners Qatar Racing and trainer David Simcock.
The Ricoh Woodbine Mile was the centerpiece of a blockbuster card of racing at the Toronto oval, which included the Grade II $300,000 Canadian Stakes, won by French-bred Minakshi for owners Northern Bloodstock and Maryland-based trainer, Michael Matz; the Ontario Derby won by Sam-Son farms His Race to Win and the Grade I Northern Dancer Stakes won by Forte Dei Marmi.
For Wise Dan, he may continue his campaign to the Breeders’ Cup with another start in the Shadwell Mile on October 5 at Keeneland Racecourse. But really, for the gelding on a nine win streak, the possibilities are endless.
“I hope he is around for a lot more years, I tell you,” said LoPresti.