Wise Dan lived up to all the hype on Sunday.
The reigning U.S. horse of the year emphatically defended his title in the $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile, earning a comfortable 3 1/2-length victory for his ninth straight graded stakes win. And just for good measure, the six-year-old gelding posted a course-record time of 1:31.75 on a firm turf at Woodbine Racetrack.
“I feel like we’ve got a great horse,” LoPresti said. “What he did today, I mean I say it every time he runs with what he does and how he does things, was really impressive.
“I don’t know [about Wise Dan being better now than he was last year]. I don’t know how much better he can get but he’s very good. There’s no sign he’s slowing down, I can tell you that, for his age. He is a dream come true.”
Breaking from post four, Wise Dan effortlessly stalked the pace behind early frontrunners Excaper and Dimension. At the head of the stretch, Wise Dan took off like a rocket, easily passing Excaper and Dimension into the lead.
And that point, the only question that remained was Wise Dan’s winning margin. However jockey John Velazquez, who claimed a record fourth Mile crown, said his trip wasn’t flawless.
“I think I did a little too much with him in the post parade,” Velazquez said. “He was kind of quiet and he broke well and I put him right behind the other two horses and he got rank with me.
“I thought, ‘Come on buddy, please come off the bridle a little bit.’ Once he did that, I waited until the 5-16ths pole and let him ease out from those two horses and as soon as he saw the wire he just went on.”
Wise Dan earned the $600,000 winner’s share and a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. Wise Dan is the defending Breeders’ Cup Mile champion.
It was a record-setting performance for both Wise Dan and his connections. He became the first two-time Mile winner while LoPresti earned his record-tying third straight victory in this event.
Za Approval was second with Trade Storm taking third in overcast, breezy conditions. The remainder of the field, in order of finish, included; Riding the River; Dimension; and Excaper.
Garrett Gomez, the jockey aboard Za Approval, could only tip his cap to Wise Dan.
“He [Za Approval] was just no match for Wise Dan,” he said. “There’s no shame in that.
“He’s the best turf horse in North America.”
Trade Storm finished third despite being last with a quarter-mile remaining.
“I was further back than I wanted to be,” jockey Gary Stevens said. “I kind of lost touch down the back straight with him and I had to just sit where I was once I was there.
“He’s only got a furlong in him so I couldn’t really kick on any earlier with him than what I did.”
The win was Wise Dan’s 10th in 11 career turf races and 18th overall in 25 starts with career earnings surpassing $5-million. Over the last two years, he has won 10-of-11 starts, the lone blemish being a second-place finish by a head to Ron The Greek in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap in June 2012, a 1 1/8-mile dirt race at Churchill Downs.
Wise Dan is undefeated since then but LoPresti doesn’t lose sleep worrying about his horse’s amazing streak.
“The most important thing to me at this point is that he runs his race, he comes back good and he can run again in his next race,” he said. “Sure, I don’t want him to get beat, I would’ve liked to not have got beat in the Stephen Foster, he would’ve had just about a perfect record last year and this year.
“But he has been beat before. I don’t want him to get beat but I’m not going to jump off the building with a rope around my neck if he does.”
LoPresti will wait to see how Wise Dan recovers from the Mile before deciding whether to run him before the Breeders’ Cup. Last year, Wise Dan won the $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland before going to the Breeders’ Cup and LoPresti won’t say if he’ll follow a similar gameplan.
“Even though it looked so easy you never know how much a race like that takes out of a horse because of the strain he’s been under,” LoPresti said. “But I’ll only run him if it’s right for the horse . . . he’s going to have to tell us.
“I really don’t think I’m up against the wall to do anything with him because he’s dead fit . . . I think I have him where he needs to be for the Breeders’ Cup.”
With three straight Mile victories, Woodbine is fast becoming a favourite track for LoPresti, who says he’d like to return in 2014.
“I don’t have any reason not to come back, [Woodbine] has been good to me three years in a row,” he said. “I’d sure like to bring [’11 Mile champion] Turallure back here and get him back on track.
“I want to come back. Maybe I’ll get some nice fillies to bring and some other horses besides just this one race.”
Also on Sunday, French-bred Minakshi, a 7-1 pick with Woodbine’s Luis Contreras aboard, won the $300,000 Northern Dancer turf event run at about 1 1/8 mile in 1:44.05. Colonial Flag, at 10-1, was second ahead of 16-1 longshot Moment of Majesty.
Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield had the first two finishers in the $300,000 Canadian Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares. Forte Dei Marmi, the 4/5 favourite won its third straight stakes race in 2:28.46 by a neck over 16-1 longshot Perfect Timber.
Patrick Husbands, a resident of Brampton, Ont., and seven times Canada’s top jockey, rode 15-1 longshot Alythiela to victory on Sunday’s card, his first since a racing mishap in May. Husbands, 39, suffered a fractured tibia at Woodbine when his mount collapsed just after the finish line and he was caught beneath the horse.