Wise Dan has put together eight consecutive victories, collected $4.4-million in purses, and at the same time, inspired a dogged legion of critics to challenge his greatness.
Via social media, newspaper comments and thoroughbred chat rooms, horse racing fans are daring the horse's owner, 83-year-old Mort Fink, and trainer Charlie LoPresti to enter the horse in the ultimate race, the Breeders' Cup Classic.
A six-year-old gelding, Wise Dan is the prohibitive favourite to defend his 2012 title in the $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile on Sunday at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto.
The race is an automatic, all-expenses-paid qualifier for the $2-million Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita Park in California in November. That race is run on turf, compared with the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic, on dirt over a 11/4-mile stretch.
A win in the Mile rather than the Classic is something akin to taking the 110-metre hurdles at the Summer Olympics, versus the 100-metre sprint. Wise Dan may be the reigning American Horse of the Year but in the minds of critics, he's no Usain Bolt.
"I am not going to let anybody persuade me to do anything that that horse, and Mr. Fink, don't want to do," LoPresti said by conference call at Thursday's draw. "He is very good on synthetic, he's very good on dirt, he's won a Grade-1 on dirt [the Clark Handicap], but the biggest goal for us this year is to keep him undefeated. I think that is the most logical approach."
A Classic victory would put Wise Dan's legacy into Zenyatta's upper class. His owner is undeterred. Fink has run Wise Dan successfully in a couple of lesser, Grade-2 races considered to be beneath his status.
"No one is going to sway what I think," Fink told Daily Racing Form recently. "I laugh like crazy when I read they think we're taking advantage by running in a Grade-2 race."
The field for the Ricoh Woodbine Mile is an undersized six horses, testament to the intimidating presence of the race's defending champion.
"Realistically, the other five are running for second behind Wise Dan because he hasn't looked close to being beat this year," said Conor Murphy, the trainer of Dimension, at 10-to-1, compared to the 2-to-5 odds given Wise Dan. "It will be tough against him but you can't be afraid of one horse because horses are like people, they're prone to have a bad day some time."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez gets the ride Sunday, as he did last year at this time. Velazquez won the 2011 Kentucky Derby aboard long-shot Animal Kingdom, the 2012 Belmont Stakes with Union Rags, and the Breeders' Mile with Wise Dan.
"We're just trying to do the best job we can with him and go race by race," LoPresti said. "I don't feel that much pressure. He's accomplished a lot. We don't want him to lose but he's doing really well right now, and I think he's going to run a real good race."
Real good, maybe. But great?