11/03/2012 6:53PM

Breeders' Cup Mile: Wise Dan sets course record; in Horse of the Year picture

Barbara D. Livingston
Wise Dan (third from left) sets a course record as he wins the Breeders' Cup Mile.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Using sentiment as a guiding beacon is not a tactic that typically produces favorable results. Morton Fink is a businessman, down to earth, totally realistic. But a choice Fink made from the heart, to keep, rather than sell, the mare Lisa Danielle, strictly because she was named after his granddaughter, has landed him the horse of a lifetime, Wise Dan.

Lisa Danielle’s foal of 2007 was Fink’s second starter in a Breeders’ Cup race, and Wise Dan capped a remarkable 2012 season and became a prime candidate for Horse of the Year with a powerful win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Wise Dan, under a perfect ride from John Velazquez, beat fast-closing Animal Kingdom by 1 1/2 lengths in the $2 million Mile. On a firm, fast-playing turf course, he ran a mile in 1:31.78, besting the track record of 1:31.89 set by Atticus in 1989 while carrying nine pounds more.

Among Wise Dan’s victims were fourth-place Excelebration and eighth-place Moonlight Cloud, the two best milers in Europe. With Frankel retired, Wise Dan is the best grass miler in the world at the moment.

“He’s just a super horse,” said trainer Charlie Lopresti, who has masterfully guided Wise Dan through a 13-win career and who was winning his first Breeders’ Cup race. “Every time I work him or do something with him, he amazes me.”

Wise Dan’s first trip to California was delayed by one day by Superstorm Sandy, but he came here Wednesday afternoon without incident and trained with aplomb the next two days. In the paddock and saddling ring before the Mile, Wise Dan looked gorgeous, relaxed, and poised, and he went out and ran to his looks.

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: Saturday results and video replays]

Breaking on top from post 2, Velazquez took a light hold and waited for Obviously to come up and take the lead, which he soon did. Obviously and jockey Joe Talamo set a comfortable pace, going an opening quarter-mile in 23.34 seconds and a half in 46.16, with longshot Suggestive Boy ranging up to apply token pressure. Lopresti and Velazquez spoke all week of wanting Wise Dan to be covered up behind horses, and that is where Velazquez put his mount, with Wise Dan hugging the rail in third, awaiting his cue to run. That moment came just after Obviously cut the corner and kicked for home. Wise Dan quickly attacked.

“As soon as he sees daylight, he just goes,” Fink said.

Wise Dan collared Obviously about a furlong from the finish and never relented, winging past the wire while running his final quarter-mile in less than 23 seconds.

“Once we got loose, he was there for me,” Velazquez said. “All I wanted to do was make sure I got him in a good position.”

Behind Wise Dan, things went less smoothly for 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who was hung up in traffic at the top of the stretch. Once clear, he finished with a furious rally, beating Obviously for second by a half-length while making inroads on Wise Dan.

“I just wish he hadn’t gotten stopped,” said trainer Graham Motion, who did great work bringing Animal Kingdom back from the long break.
Excelebration was nosed for third by Obviously, failing to run back to his brilliant win two weeks ago in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. Trainer Aidan O’Brien theorized the short turnaround might have dulled Excelebration; his rider, Joseph O’Brien, said Santa Anita’s tight left-handed turns threw Excelebration off.

“Everything was happening so fast for him,” the younger O’Brien said.

Mr. Commons was fifth, followed by Jeranimo, Suggestive Boy, Moonlight Cloud, and Willcox Inn. A forlorn trainer Freddie Head, who has won the Mile five times as a trainer and jockey, said Moonlight Cloud lost all chance when pushed out on the first turn.

Fink, a Chicagoan, is 82, and his celebrations are of the muted type. He has been in the horse business for more than 40 years. The mare Lisa Danielle cost Fink only $29,000. She’s the last of what once was a much larger group of broodmares that Fink kept. The idea that these circumstances would lead to a horse like Wise Dan has long amused him. Fink always emphasizes the great role played by luck.

“You can do everything right, and you get a bad trip and you’re done,” Fink said.

Wise Dan got the trip Saturday. Fink had the right horse.