Wise Dan won his second Breeders' Cup Mile on Saturday, beating Za Approval to the wire (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire).
Once a champion, always a champion.
On a day of completely contrasting emotions, the gallant 6-year old gelding Wise Dan once again showed the racing world the courage and tenacity that made him Horse of the Year in 2012.
Whether what happened in Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile will be enough to earn him the title once again in 2013 remains to be seen, but on this eventful afternoon at Santa Anita the tag of “champion” fit as properly as ever with Wise Dan.
“I can’t come up with the right words to say how proud I am,” owner Morton Fink said after his horse’s produced an encore of his win in the 2012 BC Mile.
Though a 4-5 favorite on the toteboard ($3.60) in the Grade 1 turf test, victory did not come as easily as that for Wise Dan.
Hours before the race, there was tragedy as his jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, was severely injured in a fall earlier in the Breeders’ Cup program and had to undergo emergency surgery to remove his spleen.
Reunited with jockey Jose Lezcano, who rode Wise Dan to three wins in as many tries since last October, Wise Dan stumbled coming out of the gate and fell back farther than usual as Obviously, who was third in last year’s BC Mile, carved out a quick pace.
“He stumbled pretty badly coming out the gate, so I had to go to Plan B,” Lezcano said.
As Obviously faltered turning for home, it was 18-1 shot Za Approval who forged to the front at the top of the stretch. But by then Lezcano had kicked Wise Dan into gear from the outside and in the final yards he surged past Za Approval to win by three-quarters of a length.
“I tried to put him in position to make a good run and he handled it like a champion. Right now, though, I’d like everyone to pray for John. This not the way you want to pick up a mount,” Lezcano said.
Silentio, at 31-1, was third, a length and a half behind Wise Dan, who covered the mile in 1:32.47. A year ago, he won in 1:31.78.
“He’s a real special horse. If you can get him covered up, he’s a much easier ride. This one’s for John Velazquez who was really keen to ride the horse, but we had every confidence in Jose (Lezcano) once we had to go to our backup plan’” trainer Charles LoPresti said.
That plan worked to perfection, and after Game On Dude’s loss a race later, perhaps the Horse of the Year might emerge as a two-time Horse of the Year. Wise Dan’s record stands at six wins in seven 2013 starts, four of them in Grade 1’s, with the lone loss coming on Polytrack in the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland.
“I think our horse is deserving,” LoPresti said.
Deserving as can be, especially after re-affirming on racing’s biggest stage that he is indeed a champion.
For an Equibase chart, click here.