Farewell, Wise Dan; Hello September

Photo by REED PALMER | Churchill Downs

Photo by REED PALMER | Churchill Downs

One of the outstanding sagas of success in Kentucky and all of American racing came to a jarring, but happy, end on Monday with the arrival of word that the racing career of two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan has reached its conclusion.

The 8-year-old gelding had been training beautifully toward a return to racing this Sunday in a bid for a third career victory at the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile at Toronto’s Woodbine. The race was to have been his first since an ankle injury was detected last fall following a win in the Keeneland’s Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile that knocked him out of a bid to score a third triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, which will be run this year over his home track at Lexington’s Keeneland Race Course.

But trainer Charles LoPresti noticed some swelling in the veteran’s tendon while his star took a bath on Labor Day morning. A veterinarian was called and a scan detected what LoPresti described as a “tear on the outside edge” of the gelding’s tendon.

Wise Dan had returned in brilliant fashion after two earlier injuries, but LoPresti and owner-breeder Morton Fink discussed the situation and Wise Dan’s looming ninth birthday, and they made a decision: it is time for Wise Dan to go home.

The son of Wiseman’s Ferry has been a remarkable horse and story since LoPresti made a life-changing decision – for the both the trainer and the horse – to switch Wise Dan from dirt to the turf in 2011. Wise Dan had displayed some promise in his races on dirt, but he was a different horse on grass, and it didn’t take long for him to become a brilliant runner on the new surface.

His first work on grass on the Matt Winn Turf Course at Churchill Downs was a head-turner, and it was followed shortly by a victory in Wise Dan’s debut over the new footing in the Louisville track’s one-mile, Grade II Firecracker Handicap on July 4, 2011.

He would race 16 times on grass through 2014, and all but one of those races resulted in a victory. The lone blemish was a fourth-place finish in Keeneland’s Shadwell Turf Mile in the fall of 2011. He earned $6,458,069 on that surface along with his Horse of the Year titles in 2012 and 2013, which were accompanied by Eclipse Awards in both of those years that honored him as champion grass horse and champion older horse.

He won a Grade I race on dirt when he took the 2011 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and just missed another over the Churchill Downs surface when Ron the Greek nipped him by a head in the Stephen Foster Handicap the following year.

Final career statistics for Wise Dan include a record of 23-2-0 in 31 races with overall earnings of $7,552,920. Heroics at Churchill Downs included a pair of wins in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day and two wins in the Firecracker.

Wise Dan was a dazzling star, and LoPresti handled him brilliantly. He enjoyed long restful breaks over his winters and came back ready to fire in the spring. He won on the lead and, as in his final Breeders’ Cup Mile win in 2013 at Santa Anita, rallied from far back to get up just in time.

It’s a thrill to watch good horses, but an uncommon experience to have the honor to watch a great one. Wise Dan is in the latter category, and those who enjoyed his work at Churchill Downs, Keeneland or any other track over which he competed can be thankful that he has been in caring and talented hands, is heading home safe and happy and is just waiting for a spot in racing’s Hall of Fame.

While bidding farewell to Wise Dan, we welcome September racing at Churchill Downs for a third consecutive year. The 11-day racing meeting opens on Friday, September 11 and continues through Sunday, September 27.

One Downs After Dark night racing program is scheduled for Saturday, September 19. Four stakes events on Saturday, September 12 include Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races in the Pocahontas for 2-year-old fillies and Iroquois for 2-year-olds. The headliner on Saturday, September 26 is the renamed $175,000 Lukas Classic, 1 1/8-mile race of older horses that honors four-time Kentucky Derby winner and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Vt

Information is available at the revamped web site at churchilldowns.com.