Horse of the Year Wise Dan Makes Saratoga Return in Fourstardave
By Phil Janack | 08/07/2013 04:35 PM ET
Reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who began his championship run last summer at Saratoga Race Course, finds himself on familiar footing when he fronts a field of seven on Saturday in the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap. The race will be shown on NBC from 5 - 6 p.m. as part of the "Summer at Saratoga" series.
The 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding, who was also named the top male turf horse and top older male of 2012, is riding a seven-race win streak that began in last year's Fourstardave, contested at one mile over Saratoga's inner turf course.
Trained by Charles LoPresti for owner-breeder Morton Fink, Wise Dan is three-for-three in 2013, winning the Grade 1 Maker's Mark 46 Mile in April, the Grade 1 Turf Classic in May, and the Grade 2 Firecracker in June.
"Win, lose or draw, we're proud of what he has accomplished," LoPresti said of Wise Dan, who will be giving from 11 to14 pounds to his rivals as the 129-pound highweight. "They'll never take those Eclipse Awards away from him. He's undefeated this year, and, yes, I would like to keep him undefeated. That's my goal. I'm not trying to chase anybody or prove anything. Now, I've got him where I want him."
Wise Dan has enjoyed his return to Saratoga, putting in three strong works including a sizzling five-furlong breeze over the Oklahoma training track turf course in 57.83 seconds on July 27.
A Grade 1 winner on dirt and a graded stakes winner on synthetics who also set the Santa Anita track record winning the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile, Wise Dan has 16 wins and $4,164,070 in purses in 23 lifetime starts.
"Wise Dan's pretty good," said trainer John Shirreffs, who will saddle multiple graded stakes winner Mr. Commons in the Fourstardave. "When I saw him at Santa Anita, I said, 'Yeah, he looks like just a regular horse, a nice horse.' But, boy, when you see that son of a gun move, everything changes. He's an amazing athlete."
Wise Dan showed as much in his most recent start, the Firecracker on June 29 at Churchill Downs, where he was bumped and brushed the hedge before emerging from tight quarters under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to hit the wire two lengths in front of Lea, who returns in the Fourstardave.
"It was as ugly as it could be," LoPresti said of the Firecracker. "My heart was in my throat, and Johnny was laughing when he came back. He said, 'I was never worried. He's one tough son of a gun, and he's going to make a hole.' It doesn't always work that way. Sometimes the hole doesn't open up. It was scary, but we were glad."
Velazquez gets a return call on Wise Dan in the Fourstardave, where they are the 3-5 morning-line favorite from post 1.
"He's the target every time," LoPresti said. "I think it's going to take a really good horse to beat him. He's overcome some tough trips. I just want him to get an easy race this time. I don't want it to be one of those where he's trapped and has to overcome a lot of adversity to get to the winner's circle.
"There's pressure anytime you do anything with these racehorses. The biggest thing, I think, is don't let him feel the pressure. All he knows is, he likes to run. That's his deal. That's what he wants to do. He knows how to win now. I couldn't ask for him to be any better. I don't know how you would get him any better than he is right now."
Mr. Commons steps back into stakes company in the Fourstardave, having finished fifth, beaten only 1 ½ lengths, in an optional claiming allowance at Saratoga on July 24. The 5-year-old son of Artie Schiller hadn't run outside of stakes conditions since an allowance victory on Feb. 26, 2011.
"His last race, I thought, was a good comeback race," Shirreffs said. "I thought it was probably better than his placing seemed to make it. I'm looking forward to running him. The whole point of the allowance race was to get to the Fourstardave. We knew he definitely would need a prep race, so the timing of the two races were just about perfect."
Fifth choice on the morning line at 10-1, Mr. Commons and Hall of Fame rider Edgar Prado will break from post 4.
Taking another shot at Wise Dan in the Fourstardave is Lea, trained by Al Stall, Jr. for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. The 4-year-old chestnut son of First Samurai rallied to be second, beaten two lengths, in the Firecracker.
Winner of the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf Cup in November to close his sophomore season, Lea is unbeaten at Saratoga, breaking his maiden and taking an optional claiming allowance, both against older horses, last summer.
"It's our third race after a freshening," Stall said. "We sent him to South Carolina this winter just to turn him into a horse, and he's had two good races coming back, so he's sitting on a good race.
"He's shown that he's a really solid, nice horse," he added. "Wise Dan has brilliance. You see that acceleration and turn of foot. That's something to aspire to. We'll end up in a good spot one of these days, and, hopefully, it's this weekend."
Lea, the 5-1 second choice, drew outside in post 7 with meet-leading rider Joel Rosario.
Trained by Jeremiah Englehart, King Kreesa takes a two-race win streak into the Fourstardave, having beaten fellow New York-breds in the $125,000 Kingston on June 1 and following up with a 1 ½-length victory in the Grade 3 Poker on July 4.
King Kreesa ran twice at Saratoga last year, finishing fourth by 1 ¾ lengths in the Grade 3 Saranac, and getting caught late to lose the Cab Calloway by a neck.
"He's much more mature in his races this year," Englehart said. "I have a lot of respect for what Wise Dan has accomplished. The nice thing about horse racing is there are a lot of variables, and we feel like this is our time to take a chance."
Irad Ortiz, Jr. rides King Kreesa (6-1) from post 6.
Rounding out the Fourstardave field are Skyring (15-1), winner of the Grade 2 Dixie two starts back and second by a half-length in the 2012 Saranac for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas; the Christophe Clement-trained Za Approval (8-1), who has won two of his past three starts, taking the Grade 3 Appleton and Grade 3 Red Bank; and Willyconker (30-1), making his second start off the claim for trainer Eric Guillot.
The field for the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave: