08/12/2013 8:38AM

Wise Dan, and Other Weekend Thoughts


Somewhat lost in the debate over Wise Dan’s campaign this year, and whether it is worthy of a reigning Horse of the Year, is this possibility: Races like the Fourstardave, Firecracker, and Woodbine Mile are precisely the kinds of races Wise Dan should be running in, even if they don’t resonate with a Horse of the Year ring.

What else would you have Wise Dan do? I understand that he won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on dirt, and that was a terrific effort. But that Clark victory was also almost 21 months ago. Wise Dan’s one other attempt in a Grade 1 race on dirt was in last year’s Stephen Foster Handicap, and that was not a strong performance. Yeah, Wise Dan finished second in that Foster, beaten only a head. But that race devolved into an absolute stagger-fest through the stretch, with Wise Dan searching for oxygen as much as anyone else in that field.

It’s all conjecture, of course, but it’s hardly a stretch to think Wise Dan wouldn’t be on the eight race win streak he is currently riding had he had a more ambitious campaign this year. Given the way he performed, I think Fort Larned would have had Wise Dan for lunch in this year’s Foster. I doubt Wise Dan would have reeled in Cross Traffic in the Whitney, and with the way the Woodward is shaping up, I think he would have been up against it in that race, too. And while the Pacific Classic would have been an inspired spot given his affinity for synthetic surfaces, Wise Dan does not look like he wants any part of going the 10 furlongs he would have to go in that spot.

What a few folks seem to be forgetting is Wise Dan became Horse of the Year after a 2012 campaign when there were no ideal Horse of the Year candidates. Let’s be honest, wins in the Ben Ali, Fourstardave, Woodbine Mile, Shadwell Turf Mile, and Breeders’ Cup Mile wouldn’t be close to good enough for Horse of the Year honors in most years. But last year, it was good enough for a very fortunate Wise Dan, and for most Eclipse Award voters, including yours truly.

The problem here is, Wise Dan is being saddled with conventional Horse of the Year expectations despite not being a conventional Horse of the Year.

As for Wise Dan’s performance in Saturday’s Fourstardave at Saratoga, it was, of course, terrific. I think weight is a ridiculously overblown factor in handicapping, and I do not understand why fellow horseplayers agonize over a three or four pound weight shift in the case of 1,200 pound race horses. But the 129 pounds Wise Dan carried in this Fourstardave was a substantial impost (in today’s game), and the 12 pounds he conceded to the much improved and loose-on-the-lead King Kreesa was a meaningful concession. Obviously, that is why Wise Dan’s effort a terrific one.

Groupie Doll wasn’t as successful Saturday, finishing third in the Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park as the 1-5 favorite. Groupie Doll looked very rusty to me in her first start in nine months, and I would be shocked if last year’s female sprint champ doesn’t take a huge step forward off this outing.

No one was more impressive over the weekend than Tiz Flirtatious. Her win in Sunday’s John C. Mabee at Del Mar was a MONSTER performance.

The jury is still out as to how good Fiftyshadesofgold really is. But if she were my filly (and I’d love to have her), I would still be fuming over the ride she got in Sunday’s Adirondack at Saratoga. Brutal.