01/08/2013 6:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: Wise Dan

photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

What do Eclipse Award voters do with a runner whose record is only a head away from being flawless, who traveled far and wide to win in Kentucky, New York, Canada, and California, whose people classed up the game and let their horse do the talking?

They make him some kind of champion, that’s what.

Odds are Wise Dan’s name will be in at least one of the envelopes – maybe even three – on the night the 2012 Eclipse Awards are announced at Gulfstream Park. Which ones remain to be seen, but among the possibilities are the titles of outstanding older male and turf male, both of which fit the description of Wise Dan’s campaign.

Better known as the pride and joy of owner and breeder Morton Fink, Wise Dan ended his 2011 season as a 4-year-old with easy wins in the Fayette Handicap at Keeneland and the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. They were impressive enough, but the big guns were colliding at the Breeders’ Cup, and neither the Fayette nor the Clark drew the cream of the older crop. If Wise Dan was as good as his winning margins, he would need to prove it the following year.

So he did. In race after race, Wise Dan’s presence on the American racing landscape grew. He stunned the speed figure gang with a 10 1/2-length win in the Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland. He earned universal praise for his stubborn second to Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster, while getting into trouble and giving weight. He hit all the right notes in front of America’s most discerning audience while winning the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga. Then it was “Oh, Canada” in winning the Woodbine Mile in Ontario against a solid international field.

Back home in Kentucky, Wise Dan took one deep breath and put away the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, a race that set him up for whatever loomed ahead come the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park. His trainer, Charlie Lopresti, dealt to Wise Dan’s strength – always a smart move – and targeted the Breeders’ Cup Mile, which meant his horse would be tackling his sixth different surface, including four broadly varying turf courses, against an international array of challengers.

If it bothered Wise Dan, he did not let it show. Johnny Velazquez put his chestnut in the thick of the early running, right where Wise Dan likes to be, and they kicked home in the final furlong to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Finishing behind him was 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, West Coast mile monster Obviously, and the classy Europeans Excelebration and Moonlight Cloud.

As if to punctuate the moment, Wise Dan tripped the timer for the Mile in 1:31.78 – a course record at a distance that was first run in 1986, when Santa Anita hosted the Breeders’ Cup for the first time. No horse had run a faster mile in any of the 28 other Miles contested at the 10 different tracks that have hosted the Breeders’ Cup.

Wise Dan, a gelding by the Hennessy stallion Wiseman’s Ferry, did not try a grass race until July of his 4-year-old season, when he won the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs. To that point he’d spent about half his time on dirt, the other half on synthetics. Certainly, his 2012 record puts him in the thick of things for honors as champion turf male.

But when choosing their champion older male, Eclipse voters have been swayed lately by multiple-surface performers like Gio Ponti and Acclamation. Wise Dan would seem to fit nicely in such company, and then some.