Wise Dan makes successful return in G2 Bernard Baruch
By Phil Janack | 08/30/2014 05:06 PM ET
A nerve-wracking summer came to a thrilling finish for Charles LoPresti early Saturday afternoon.
Wise Dan, the reigning two-time Horse of the Year he trains for breeder-owner Morton Fink, returned from a 15-week layoff to hold off late-running long shot Optimizer and win the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap by a nose at Saratoga Race Course.
It was the third win in as many races this year for the 7-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding, and first since having emergency colic surgery on May 16. Despite the time off and having to spot his eight rivals from eight to 13 pounds, Wise Dan ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:39.08, just .17 off the Mellon turf course record.
Optimizer, a veteran of all three Triple Crown races in 2012 for previous trainer D. Wayne Lukas, was 1 ¼ lengths ahead of pacesetting Five Iron. Sayaad checked in fourth, with Bio Pro, North Star Boy, Sky Blazer, Boisterous and Paris Vegas completing the order of finish.
"We wanted a good race for him to get started with. He's been through a lot," LoPresti said. "I knew he was training good and I knew he was going to run good. I wouldn't have been disappointed if he was beat today; it would have been something to build on. He showed today why he is the two-time Horse of the Year. He'll be way tougher next time."
The victory wasn't without a few anxious moments for Wise Dan, who was keyed up in the paddock and unsettled in the starting gate, unseating Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and having to be backed out and reloaded. When the doors opened, he sprung from post 4 and immediately settled into a ground-saving trip in fourth behind Five Iron, who led through a quarter-mile in 23.26 seconds, a half in 46.37 and six furlongs in 1:09.77.
Five Iron was still in front as the field turned for home, though Velazquez swung Wise Dan four wide to launch his bid leaving the backstretch. Wise Dan collared Five Iron at the eighth pole and began to edge clear while Optimizer was making a bold run from mid-pack on the far outside.
"He was really tough," Velazquez said. "He showed he has the heart of a champion. [He carried] 127 pounds coming from a long layoff. When I got to the eighth pole, I didn't think I got it. When I got past the sixteenth pole he was giving me everything he had and the other horse was coming from the outside. There was a little bit of doubt; he was getting tired. [I'm] incredibly proud. It's incredible to have this horse coming back."
With Optimizer bearing down on him, Wise Dan continued to fight and got his nose down with one final lunge at the wire for his 22ndvictory in 30 lifetime starts, boosting his career earnings to $6,952,920. The 4-5 favorite, he returned $3.60 for a $2 win bet.
"He's a trouper, man," LoPresti said. "He knows how to win races. Johnny said he was tired. I can tell you, he's just an amazing horse. That's the way he wins."
Wise Dan, who had six breezes at Saratoga as part of his recovery, received an ovation from an appreciative crowd as he jogged back to and then walked into the winner's circle, and again after posing for his photo and being led back to the barn.
"We wanted to run here," LoPresti said. "I came here to run. I came here to train, and I came here to run. I really wanted to do it, and I'm really glad that we did."