Archive for Wise Dan

Wise Dan Looks To Become a Two Time Horse of the Year, But Should He Win For Top Older Male???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steve Crist of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

There’s one Eclipse Award where Wise Dan is not best choice

Secretariat. Forego. Affirmed. John Henry. Cigar. Curlin. Wise Dan?

Come January, the question mark will be gone and Wise Dan will join those six as the only horses to win more than one Horse of the Year title since the Eclipse Awards began in 1972.

(If you want to travel back to the pre-Eclipse days of Horse of the Year polls that began in 1936, you can add Challedon [1939-40], Whirlaway [1941-42], Native Dancer [1952 and 1954], and Kelso [1960-64] to the list.)

Wise Dan’s second such title is about the same price as the sun’s rising in the east tomorrow. Game On Dude would have wrested the trophy from the 2012 Horse of the Year with a Classic victory, and Princess of Sylmar would have made it a horse race had she won the Distaff. However, when those two finished ninth and sixth, respectively, at Santa Anita last weekend, while Wise Dan won his second straight Breeders’ Cup Mile, the voting for the sport’s top award became a formality.

Two days after the Cup, Wise Dan got 53 of the 56 (95 percent) votes in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly poll, suggesting this year’s landslide may be even greater than the 2012 version, when he received 194 of the 250 (78 percent) actual ballots cast.

In some ways, Wise Dan fits right in with the other multiple winners. His 19 career victories are the same number as Cigar’s, and more than Curlin or Secretariat, and his $6.2 million in earnings put him fourth among the seven (behind Curlin’s $10.5 million, Cigar’s $9.99 million, and John Henry’s $6.59 million, but more than Secretariat, Forego, and Affirmed combined to win in the 1970s.) His seven Grade 1 victories in 2012 and 2013 are a smidge light but the same number that Curlin posted in 2007 and 2008.

The primary differences, and probably the ones that make some old-school types a tad reluctant to put him in such exalted company, relate to surface and distance. Wise Dan will be the first multiple Eclipse Horse of the Year who did not win a race at 10 furlongs or more during one of his championship seasons, or a dirt race of any kind.

He’s not the first to win the award twice with a predominantly grass campaign: John Henry won nine Grade 1 races during his 1981 and 1984 Horse of the Year campaigns, and seven of those nine were on the grass. (Curlin and Secretariat each tried grass only once, Cigar was 1 for 11 on it before he got good, and Affirmed and Forego never touched the stuff.)

I have no hesitation about voting for Wise Dan as Horse of the Year and champion turf male, but I will be looking elsewhere for champion older male. Those who take the name of that award too literally will argue that the Horse of the Year must by definition win any other category in which he is a contender, but to me that title really means best main-track older horse.

There is precedent for awarding the older male Eclipse to a horse other than a grass-based Horse of the Year who happens to be an older male. In fact, Wise Dan was the first such horse to win the older male award, largely because there were no dominant older dirt males last year. When John Henry won his second Horse of the Year in 1984 without a grass victory, the older male title went to Slew o’ Gold. When all-grass Kotashaan won the big prize in 1993, the Eclipse for older male went to Bertrando.

Last year there was a stronger case for Wise Dan as best older male on grounds of versatility – he had a runaway synthetic-track victory in the Ben Ali and a narrow defeat in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on dirt to go along with his four grass triumphs. This year, he lost his only non-grass start when he finished second to Silver Max after the Shadwell Turf Mile was rained onto the main track.

So with eight weeks until ballots are due, I’m leaning towards voting for Wise Dan as Horse of the Year and top turf male, but for Game On Dude as champion older male. Before his Classic misfire, he was 3 for 3 on dirt and 2 for 2 on synthetics and swept California’s three biggest races for older males – the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic, all at 1 1/4 miles. Wise Dan’s a worthy and inevitable Horse of the Year again, but there’s still an appropriate way to honor the horse who had the best season at classic distances on the main track.


Geldings Ruling Racing in 2013

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jon White of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

The Dude and Dan

How truly wonderful it is that two outstanding geldings, Game On Dude and Wise Dan, are gracing the racing stage this year.

The good news is Game On Dude and Wise Dan are a combined nine for nine so far this year. The bad news is The Dude and Dan have made a total of 51 career starts between them, yet they have never run against each other. Not only that, as it stands right now, Game On Dude and Wise Dan will not clash anytime during the remainder of the year.

Game On Dude, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, is headed to the Grade I, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 2 following his record 8 1/2-length victory in Del Mar’s Pacific Classic on Aug. 25.

Wise Dan, conditioned by Charlie LoPresti, is headed to the Grade I, $1 million Woodbine Mile on turf Sept. 15 after he won Saratoga’s Grade II Fourstardave Handicap on Aug. 10. After the Woodbine Mile, Wise Dan is scheduled to run in the Grade I, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, a race he won last year in course record time.

The two best geldings in the sport today again are ranked first and second nationally. Here is this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll (with the number of first-place votes in parenthesis):

1. Game On Dude (32)
2. Wise Dan (15)
3. Royal Delta
4. Cross Traffic
5. Point of Entry
6. Princess of Sylmar
7. Obviously
8. Sahara Sky
9. Flat Out
10. Palace Malice

While Game and Dude and Wise Dan are exceptional, they certainly have not yet come close to compiling a body of work that reaches the same level of greatness achieved by Kelso in the 1960s, Forego in the 1970s or John Henry in the 1980s.

Kelso was voted five Horse of the Year titles, Forego three and John Henry two.

Wise Dan has a single Horse of the Year to his credit. He was voted 2012 Horse of the Year and is in the running for a second such title this year. Game On Dude has never been voted Horse of the Year, but he also is in the running for the title this year.

On my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries, Kelso is No. 4 (behind Man o’ War, Secretariat and Citation), Forego is No. 13 and John Henry is No. 22.

On this date (Sept. 4) in 1959, Kelso won a six-furlong maiden sprint at Atlantic City to begin his distinguished career. How great was Kelso? What Kelso would go on to pull off would be comparable to a contemporary horse winning five consecutive Breeders’ Cup Classics, with a Breeders’ Cup Turf triumph thrown in for good measure.

Kelso won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Breeders’ Cup Classic of its day, for five straight years. In 1964, Kelso also captured the Washington, D.C., International, forerunner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Regarding weight, Kelso carried 130 pounds or more 24 times. He twice won under 136 pounds (once in the 1961 Brooklyn Handicap, the other time in a 1964 handicap race at Aqueduct).

Forego also carried 130 pounds or more 24 times. He toted a staggering 137 pounds when victorious in the 1976 Marlboro Cup Handicap while spotting 18 pounds to runner-up Honest Pleasure.

Horses today rarely pack 130 pounds or more. One reason for this is many of the races a Wise Dan or Game On Dude run in today are no longer handicaps.

Excluding sprints, no horse has carried 130 pounds or more in a graded stakes race on American soil since Skip Away’s victory under 131 pounds in the Grade II Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park on Aug. 30, 1998.

Wise Dan won this year’s Fourstardave Handicap while carrying 129 pounds. That is the highest weight he has ever shouldered. The highest weight Game On Dude has ever carried is 127 pounds when he won this year’s Hollywood Gold Cup.

Forego not only was an admirable weight carrier, he was quite versatile in terms of distances. In 1974, Forego had the class and stamina to win the 1 1/2-mile Woodward and two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. That same year, he also had the class and speed to win the seven-furlong Carter Handicap and seven-furlong Vosburgh Handicap. In the Carter, Forego defeated a formidable foe in Mr. Prospector. In the Vosburgh, Forego carried 131 pounds and posted an excellent final time of 1:21 3/5.

John Henry never carried more than 130 pounds. He carried 130 pounds only three times.

Because John Henry became so immensely popular, tracks from coast to coast desperately wanted him. An appearance by John Henry meant a significant increase in attendance and handle. Cognizant of this, John Henry’s trainer, Ron McAnally, let it be known that the lower the weight assigned to John Henry, the better chance a track had to get him to race there.

It is my belief that keeping more than 130 pounds off 1981 Horse of the Year John Henry was a major reason he was still so effective late in his career, unlike Kelso and Forego. Remarkably, John Henry was voted a second Horse of the Year title at the age of 9 in 1984. As a 9-year-old, John Henry won six of nine starts, with four of his victories coming at the Grade I level.

Compare that to what Kelso and Forego did at 9 after carrying so much weight earlier in their careers.

When Kelso was 9, he made only one start. He finished fourth in an allowance race at Hialeah Park.

When Forego was 9, he made just two starts. He won an allowance race at Belmont, then ran fifth under 132 pounds on a sloppy track in the Grade I Suburban Handicap at that track.

Game On Dude and Wise Dan are each 6. Considering neither of them has yet to carry as much as 130 pounds, hopefully they both still will be racing — and winning — as 9-year-olds in the year 2016.


Churchill Recap: Top Horses Remain Elite, Middle and Lower Ranks Need Depth

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jennie Rees of Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Churchill Downs’ 2013 spring meet was pretty much a rerun of recent years

Same old, same old.

Racing at the top remains terrific. For only the fourth time anywhere, reigning winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Fort Larned, who won the Stephen Foster) and Ladies’ Classic (Royal Delta, who lost the Fleur de Lis) ran on the same card. Stakes remained inordinately tough for their relatively sparse purses — Horse of the Year Wise Dan ran in a Grade II for $150,000. Money-won allowance races once again were like graded stakes.

But the middle and bottom continue to deteriorate with too many short fields of bad horses. It’s one thing to have a six-horse field of strong allowance horses, another when it’s a bottom claiming or maiden race. Middle-range claiming races are lucky to even be used.

Part of this is competition from other tracks in the region with purses supplemented by slots. Part of it is self-inflicted. Churchill often has catered to the biggest outfits, giving them way more than what is supposed to be the maximum number of stalls per trainer, and as a result has squeezed out a chunk of its middle- and lower-middle class and smaller outfits.

Now they need those blue-collar horses to fill the cheaper races that take up an increasing percentage of the daily program. However, many of those horses are no longer stabled at Churchill but training centers (or out of state). As such, their trainers are not beholden to running at Churchill, and instead increasingly are running for very good money against lesser competition elsewhere.

What happens to all the 2-year-old maiden winners? Not long ago, Churchill had three stakes for 2-year-old colts in the spring. Now there’s only the Bashford Manor (plus the Debutante for fillies). And there’s virtually no such thing as an allowance race for 2-year-olds. How is this, with so many 2-year-olds on the grounds?

In the big picture, Churchill has fewer problems than most racetracks. But it’s the only one calling itself “the World’s Most Legendary Racetrack.”

• Horse of the meet: How often do you get to see the Horse of the Year run twice at a Churchill meet? Wise Dan won the Grade I Woodford Reserve with aplomb, then overcame traffic in the Firecracker Handicap. A $150,000, Grade II stakes wouldn’t seem to do much for the gelding’s legacy. But that high-weight of 128 pounds — in this day and age — is going to look good on his career record.

• Race of the meet: Fort Larned’s 6-¼-length Stephen Foster victory in near track-record amid a field populated with Grade I winners was electrifying. Here’s hoping Fort Larned and Wise Dan meet at some point this year.

• Jockey of the meet: Shaun Bridgmohan won his first spring title with 53 wins, including six stakes.

• Leading newcomer (famous division): Rosie Napravnik, who dominated the past three winters in New Orleans, didn’t win the title but had a huge meet to finish second to Bridgmohan with 45 wins.

• Leading newcomer (who? division): We now know who jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. is after he finished fourth with 28 victories.

• Apprentice: Dylan Davis, son of former jockey Robbie Davis, won 16 races.

• Best week: Joel Rosario rode here Derby Week and June 15, but still finished sixth in the jockey standings, going 17 for 46. And, of course, he got the big one, the Derby on Orb.

• Owners stat: Ken and Sarah Ramsey not only smashed the record for wins at a meet (32), but they were the racing office’s best friend with 103 starters. They also won four stakes.

• Unsung heroes: Churchill Downs’ outriders, starting-gate and track-maintenance crews. These are jobs where experience matters.

• Curiously quiet: Dale Romans, the reigning Eclipse Award trainer and who ranks No. 2 in career wins at his hometown track, clearly is in rebuilding (and, in the case of multiple Grade I winners Little Mike and Dullahan, regrouping) mode, with only five wins out of 61 starts. When he won last year’s spring title, Romans went 23 for 122.


The Belmont Signals The End of The Triple Crown and the Beginning of Focusing on the Older Horses

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jay Hovdey of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

With Triple Crown over, the grown-ups finally take center stage

Will someone please peek out of the curtains to see if the coast is clear? Any of those young hooligans still hanging around, trampling the lawn and playing their loud, rappity-rap music? Is it finally safe again for the adults to come out and play?

Sunday could be the day, because that is when the quest for the 2013 Triple Crown finally will have reached an end and, for want of a better date, the second half of the season begins. Come the dawn there suddenly will disappear any need to wonder what Todd Pletcher is thinking about a 3-year-old at any particular moment or when a van is scheduled to leave Churchill Downs heading east. The words “frac” and “daddy” need never appear in the same sentence again, at least without good reason, as the rest of the top-flight Thoroughbred population finally emerges from behind bushes and rocks to take their turn in the sun. If it ever stops raining.

It is unreasonable to expect a second half in 2013 like 2012, especially among the older males, when at one time or another such talented animals as Wise Dan, Fort Larned, Point of Entry, Game On Dude, Little Mike, Flat Out, Mucho Macho Man, Ron the Greek, and To Honor and Serve caught the eye.

Ditto the older fillies and mares, who mixed it up with the best of the 3-year-old fillies in 2012 to provide outstanding entertainment, thanks to Royal Delta, Groupie Doll, Include Me Out, Zagora, Love and Pride, Tapitsfly, Questing, and My Miss Aurelia.

By now, the game’s camp followers have come to understand that each season is a chapter in a never-ending story. Characters come and go with heartless impunity, sometimes evaporating completely from view. It’s never wise to get hooked on a particular hero.

The first half of Royal Delta’s year was sacrificed on the altar of the Dubai World Cup, where she is clearly not at home. As for Groupie Doll, she has not run at all and may not for several months.

At least Wise Dan has provided two quality appearances befitting a reigning Horse of the Year, and Game on Dude is a perfect 3 for 3 running East and West. But Little Mike ran twice to no avail in Dubai, Include Me Out remains among the missing, and Point of Entry had just one race this year before his scheduled appearance in the Manhattan Handicap on Belmont Day.

The most frustrating encore for any of the stars of last year has been the two appearances by Fort Larned, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic in a tenacious battle with Mucho Macho Man. Among those behind them that day were the winners of the Woodward, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Santa Anita Handicap, the Stephen Foster, the Californian, and the Hollywood Gold Cup.

In his debut as a 5-year-old, Fort Larned dumped Brian Hernandez at the start of the March 9 Gulfstream Park Handicap, charged through the field to the lead, and ran willy-nilly around the course to cross the finish line far in front of his more traditionally mounted opposition.

After getting him back in one piece, trainer Ian Wilkes produced Fort Larned a month later in the Oaklawn Handicap. Hernandez stayed on board this time, but the real Fort Larned didn’t show. After stalking the pace of local favorite Cyber Secret, the Breeders’ Cup winner surrendered without a fight to finish fifth.

Wilkes retreated to his Churchill Downs home base and took a deep breath, or maybe a valium.

“What a way to start the year. It was not a pretty sight, what happened at Gulfstream,” Wilkes said Friday from Churchill. “I watched him closely for the next week, and the horse didn’t leave any feed. All indications were showing that he bounced out of it the right way, and no harm done. But obviously it took a little more out of him than I thought, and we just didn’t know it until he got back to the races.”

In a way this makes sense. Classy animals do not tip their weaknesses easily. The good ones play hurt and rarely complain. The riderless Fort Larned was hand-timed in a track record for the mile of the Gulfstream Handicap, and man was he a beautiful sight in full, majestic flight. Given the controlled parameters of training and racing, however, it presented a wild-card scenario that would have challenged anyone.

Because the Oaklawn Handicap unfolded in a more customary, if unsatisfying, manner, Wilkes at least knew he had a short horse who should be tighter next time around. That opportunity comes up June 15 at Churchill Downs in the $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap, a race in which he finished eighth in 2012 in a duel with division leaders Wise Dan, Ron the Greek, and Nate’s Mineshaft. Royal Delta also is scheduled to return that afternoon in the Fleur des Lis.

“The last few weeks his works have been tremendous here,” Wilkes noted. “I’ve no complaints with the way he’s doing. He’s a maturing horse still, maybe a bit bigger than he was this time last year. And he’s doing the little things differently, like a more mature horse. I see no reason why he can’t get back to the same top level he was at last year.”

In the meantime, for those who just can’t wait, there is a countdown clock ticking at the top of the official Kentucky Derby website maintained by Churchill Downs. At the start of business Friday, the day before the Belmont Stakes, there were 329 days, eight hours, 48 minutes, and 17 seconds until the Triple Crown started again.