Morton Fink knows all about movies.
The Chicago native has owned several theatres, and when he says he thinks there are few superstars right now on the thoroughbred racing scene, he probably knows what he's talking about. He knows about drama and the absence of drama.
However, his big, long-striding chestnut, Wise Dan, created a dramatic moment on Sunday when he easily won the $1-million Woodbine Mile on Sunday, and with it an expenses-paid trip to the Breeders' Cup Mile in California in November. And if there is a horse with star power on the racing scene these days, it is Wise Dan. Shutterbugs clustered around him in the walking ring, focused on his every move.
He's such a star at the moment, that Fink and his trainer, Charles Lopresti are asking themselves if the home-bred horse could take on the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic, rather than the Mile.
"I think he is good on any [surface], as he's proved, but I think he's a little bit better on the grass," Fink said Sunday. "But you can't turn down a Classic."
The temptation to run in the Classic comes from a lack of superstars on the scene, with with the retirements of Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another, Belmont winner, Union Rags and a host of others. Game on Dude, second in the Classic last year, was defeated in his past start.
Wise Dan overwhelmed the field on Sunday, slipping to the lead at the head of the stretch and without apparent effort, widening it to 3 1/4 lengths at the wire. He won in a snappy 1 minute 34.07 seconds for the mile distance as the heavy 1-to-2 favourite.
"I was a little bit worried about being that close to the lead [during the race], said trainer Charles Lopresti, who won last year's Woodbine Mile with the grey horse Turallure, which went on to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Mile, ahead of European star Goldikova. Wise Dan stalked the pace in third place behind pacesetters Worthadd and Artic (sic) Fern.
"When he made the lead, I was thinking: 'It's a really long stretch,' but he just kept running," Lopresti said.
Wise Dan had everybody talking in August at Saratoga over a brilliant workout that even took Lopresti by surprise. He had told the horse's exercise rider to take the horse for a easy half mile work in 48 seconds. As Lopresti and jockey John Velasquez watched him, they, too, thought he was going only that fast.
But when Lopresti looked at his watch, he had caught him in 46 seconds. And the track clockers had him at 45 4/5 seconds – time that is more than fast enough to win races.
"I turned around and looked at the clockers and they were all looking at their watches and shaking their heads," Lopresti said. "He's just an amazing horse. He has such a high cruising speed and his action is so good."
And he's an easy horse, unruffled by racetrack environments. Lopresti said when he went to take the horse's temperature two hours before the Woodbine Mile on Sunday, he found the horse snoozing, with his head propped against the webbing at the front of his stall. Worried? Not Wise Dan.
One thing that Lopresti feels is that although Wise Dan has won Grade 1 races on the dirt, that the horse prefers the turf and synthetic tracks. And the Breeders' Cup Classic is run on the dirt course at Santa Anita.
There is a temptation to look at the Classic, but Lopresti thinks that if the race were over a synthetic track – that Santa Anita used to have – that he might lean toward the bigger purse. But he's leaning toward the Mile, because he doesn't want to ask his horse to do something he does not prefer to do.
Turallure did not make a return to the Woodbine Mile this year because x-rays showed bone bruising that wasn't that far away from becoming a condylar fracture in his legs. The horse is at his farm in Kentucky, but Lopresti does not plan to bring him back to the races until next year.
Then, he'll have to figure a way to keep his two turf mile champions apart. It's a nice problem for a trainer.