10/06/2013 12:29PM

Wise Dan, and Other Weekend Notes


While the rest of us react in different ways to Wise Dan's loss to Silver Max in Saturday's off-the-turf Shadwell Mile at Keeneland, perhaps we should take a breath and pay closer attention to how Charles LoPresti took it. As trainer of the 2012 Horse of the Year, no one is closer to Wise Dan than LoPresti. So he had more right than anyone after the Shadwell to offer excuses, and even be defensive if he chose to be, especially considering the circumstances that surrounded the race. Only about an hour before off time, heavy rain forced the Shadwell off the turf and onto a wet Polytrack. Requiring Horses of the Year to change on the fly like this happens like, about, never.

Instead, LoPresti presented no excuses. Good for him. It's refreshing to see a trainer of a major horse decline to offer excuses when their charge doesn't win. And in this particular case, it was nice that no excuses were offered for Wise Dan not being able to do better than second, because Wise Dan didnt have any.

The switch off the turf, as late as it was, should have only benefited Wise Dan. He romped in the Ben Ali and Fayette in his last two starts on Keeneland's main track, and his five synthetic track wins (from seven career starts) were only three shy of the rest of the field combined. Wise Dan had dead aim on Silver Max from the far turn on, and at level weights, to boot. And while Silver Max has gotten good again, until Saturday, he never was Grade 1 good. This time, Wise Dan was just second best. In case we forgot, he isn't a machine.

But more than seeing a win streak come to an end at nine, or having a less-than-ideal final prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile, the biggest impact of Wise Dan losing Saturday will be on his chances to repeat as Horse of the Year.

Wise Dan was an unconventional Horse of the Year last year. He did his work as a turf miler, and that makes him a niche horse, even if he is capable in other areas. Traditionally, niche horses don't get Horse of the Year, though Wise Dan proved an exception because he was less imperfect than 2012's other flawed Horse of the Year candidates.

This year, however, there has been backlash over Wise Dan's conservative campaign. There have been complaints about it not being more than a virtual repeat of his 2012 schedule, and it not being worthy of a defending Horse of the Year. And when you add to this mix a disappointing loss on a main track he is known to love, in a race in which everything pointed his way, you can understand how Saturday's defeat might be an especially damaging one for Wise Dan.

A few other quick thoughts on the weekend action, starting with Keeneland:

Groupie Doll's connections were also classy in defeat after Saturday's TCA Stakes, offering no excuses for their mare's no excuse third to Judy the Beauty. Groupie Doll was last year's champion female sprinter, and I know it is always dangerous to underestimate a champion, but Groupie Doll just doesn't seem like the same horse this year.

I would love for someone to explain to me how the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity, renewed on Saturday, and the Darley Alcibiades, run on opening day Friday, remain Grade 1 races. These used to be important races when they were run on dirt, but are a shell of themselves since Keeneland went to Polytrack. We Miss Artie is a turf horse, and to date, not an especially good one, but he romped over 11 opponents in the Breeders' Futurity. My Conquestadory, a pretty nice turf horse considering she beat males in the Summer Stakes in her racing debut, worked through traffic to best a very iffy group in the Alcibiades.

I miss the days when track announcers focused on telling you where the horses were and kept the editorializing to a minimum. Despite what the Keeneland announcer would have you think, My Conquestadory did not show in the Alcibiades that she is the Second Coming. Not with her 74 winning Beyer Figure. Not against that field. Not yet, anyway. But I do believe it is possible for track announcers to be entertaining and insightful. Just don't proclaim how great a horse is in the heat of the moment. That's a low percentage game.


Havana and Honor Code, the one-two finishers in Saturday's Champagne, are two very, very nice horses, and there is much to like about both. Havana did all the dirty work in the Champagne, forcing and then contesting a fast early pace. So when you also consider that he was stretching out from 5.5 furlongs in his only other start to a mile, it was understandable that Havana tired a little late, but he held grimly.

As for Honor Code, he proved he is not a wet track creation, and he might have got up in the Champagne had he not been floated out to Hempstead Turnpike at the top of the stretch. You know Honor Code is going to love all the distance he can get. I just hope that with experience, he gets himself more into the game early.

Strong Mandate, the Hopeful winner, was a profound disappointment in the Champagne, finishing a distant seventh. Unlike Wise Dan and Groupie Doll, the excuse of not handling the track was offered for Strong Mandate.

You dont want to take anything away from Artemis Agrotera, who stepped up from a blowout win over New York breds in her debut at Saratoga to prevail in Saturday's Frizette. But really, the Frizette was all about the race Sweet Reason, the Spinaway winner, ran finishing second. Five lengths? Eight lengths? Take your pick. That was about how many lengths Sweet Reason lost with her duck in at the start. She is a beast, and she also proved Saturday that she is much more than a wet track horse.

I don't have much to say about Saturday's Jamaica Handicap, won by Up With the Birds, other than these two things: Let's not confuse the highly competitive and deep field this edition of the Jamaica drew with it being a Grade 1 quality field. They are two different things, and the Jamaica is still not a true Grade 1 race. And I found it highly amusing that Get in Line, who was entered as a rabbit for runner up Admiral Kitten, went right to the front, and then promptly slowed the pace down to 25.34, 49.98, and 1:13.76. What was that about?

Santa Anita:

For much of the year, the male sprint division has been uninspiring. But things are definitely looking up. Last week, Private Zone stepped up with a determined Vosburgh win, and on Saturday, Points Offthebench and Goldencents ran big finishing one-two (just as they did in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar) in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. I really like Points Offthebench's ability to stalk and pounce. And while we know Goldencents can go two turns (he did win the Santa Anita Derby and Sham early this year), the decision by his connections to focus on sprinting was a clever one.

First Wise Dan lost, and then Obviously followed suit with a weak fourth in the City of Hope Mile. Less than a week ago, these two were America's two best hopes for the Breeders' Cup Mile.