Updated on 11/02/2013 8:48PM

Breeders' Cup Mile: Wise Dan overcomes early stumble to repeat

Barbara D. Livingston
Wise Dan (left), with Jose Lezcano riding, powers past Za Approval to score a repeat victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Decline can come quickly for horses of a certain age who have raced brilliantly through multiple seasons. Witness Royal Delta’s lackluster showing Friday in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The 6-year-old Wise Dan is in his fourth year of racing. Over the summer he looked invincible, but Silver Max halted his nine-race winning streak Oct. 5 in the Shadwell Mile. Even trainer Charlie LoPresti, in the back of his mind, wondered if time and racing had taken a toll.

Wise Dan is not done yet.

[BREEDERS' CUP SATURDAY: Video replays and race results]

Despite stumbling at the start, and having lost the services of his regular rider, John Velazquez, Wise Dan ran down Za Approval to repeat in the $2 million Breeder’s Cup Mile, strengthening his case to be named Horse of the Year for the second straight season, and becoming the fourth horse to score back-to-back victories in the Mile.

“This horse keeps me going,” said a beaming 84-year-old Mort Fink, Wise Dan’s breeder and owner. “I’ve said that before and I meant it.”

Wise Dan, ridden by Jose Lezcano, beat Za Approval by three-quarters of a length, with Silentio another three-quarters back in third. Silver Max finished fourth, followed by Obviously, Not Jet Lag, Cristoforo Colombo, He Be Fire N Ice, Olympic Glory, and Bright Thought. Wise Dan, heavily favored throughout the betting, paid $3.60 to win, and was timed in 1:32.60 on firm turf, well off the course record he set winning this race last year. A gelded son of Wiseman’s Ferry, Wise Dan won for the 19th time in 27 races. His $1.1 million share of the purse boosted his career earnings to $6,293,610.

Velazquez was injured when his mount in the Juvenile Fillies broke down, but Lezcano didn’t have a horse for the Mile and was the obvious choice to ride Wise Dan, having piloted him to victory three times the last two seasons. His job became more complicated one stride into the race when Wise Dan stumbled significantly, falling farther behind the early leaders than he ever has a in turf race.

“He was farther back than I’ve ever seen him,” LoPresti said. “But [Lezcano] went to Plan B. He didn’t panic.”

LoPresti was concerned seeing Wise Dan eighth of 10 past the stands for the first time, but the posting of the first quarter-mile split, a suicidal 21.94 seconds, put him at greater ease. The pace barely slackened around the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch, with Obviously passing the first half in 44.47, Silver Max hot on his heels. On the far turn, Za Approval launched a three-wide bid and Lezcano had Wise Dan in gear, following Za Approval past the three-eighths pole and into the stretch. Wise Dan still had work to do, but once he straightened away, he kicked into a different gear.

“He took a little while to change leads, but once he changed, he really took off,” Lezcano said.

Za Approval, improving all year, ran the best race of his life to get second.

“It took a Horse of the Year to beat us,” trainer Christophe Clement said.

Silentio also turned in a career best, benefitting from a layoff off more than two months engineered by trainer Gary Mandella.

LoPresti, meanwhile, still questions whether he should have run Wise Dan in the Shadwell, which was rained off turf and run over a wet Polytrack at Keeneland. Had Wise Dan not lost that race, he would have been unbeaten in two years.

“I didn’t sleep for two nights after that race,” he said.

LoPresti will load Wise Dan onto a van, which will take him to a plane bound for Kentucky in the middle of Saturday night. Then, his great horse back on top again, he can rest easy.

$1 exacta (8-10), $16.80
50-cent trifecta (8-10-2), $105.05
10-cent super (8-10-2-3), $144.66
$2 double (9-8), $12.60
50-cent pick three (11-9-8), $74.80