06/27/2013 3:18PM

Churchill Downs: Wise Dan the clear heavyweight in Firecracker


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – His critics argue that Wise Dan, as the reigning Horse of the Year, should further prove his greatness by venturing outside the comfort of his niche, perhaps by running in longer races or dirt races or something other than middle-distance turf events. The Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap, they say, might even be beneath him.

But what cannot be argued is that Wise Dan is a horse of true brilliance, an extraordinary talent, and that it is difficult to fault his trainer, Charlie LoPresti, for having tunnel vision in trying to keep his stable star in contention for a second straight Horse of the Year title.

“The Firecracker just fits our schedule,” said LoPresti, who will be front and center Saturday night when he sends out Wise Dan as the huge favorite and 128-pound highweight in the 23rd running of the $150,000 Firecracker at Churchill Downs. “It’s something to tick us over until we run in some of these bigger races again.”

With John Velazquez back to ride, Wise Dan is scheduled to face seven other older horses, although at least one, Corporate Jungle, is expected to scratch, according to trainer Tom Proctor. That would leave Wise Dan with the inside post in the one-mile turf race, with the remaining six breaking to his outside.

The Firecracker is carded as the ninth of 11 Downs After Dark races. First post is 6 p.m. Eastern, with the Firecracker set for 10:11. HRTV will have coverage.

The Firecracker will be the first time in six races that Wise Dan has stepped down from Grade 1 competition, dating to his five-length romp in the Grade 2 Fourstardave last summer on the Saratoga turf. Bred and owned by Morton Fink, the 6-year-old gelding has earned more than $4 million in a 22-race career marked by numerous breathtaking performances.

LoPresti has maintained all spring, particularly in recent weeks, that Wise Dan is “about as sharp as I can keep him” and that the gelding has not lost anything from his sensational 2012 campaign. His two wins this year, in the Maker’s 46 Mile and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, seem to bear that out.

“We’re sending him down there expecting another big race,” LoPresti said this week from his Keeneland base. “Even carrying all that weight.”

The 128-pound assignment initially left LoPresti considering skipping the Firecracker, but ultimately he decided the benefit of having a relatively easy race during an otherwise demanding campaign outweighed what would have resulted in a lengthy period between starts. The opposition will be in receipt of 11 to 15 pounds.

Al Stall Jr., trainer of Lea, said the spread was enough to take a shot at Wise Dan and to forsake the logical alternative, the Poker at Belmont next Thursday. Lea, the likely second wagering choice with Brian Hernandez Jr. to ride, will carry 117 pounds.

“We reconsidered because the 11-pound difference seems like it gives us enough of a chance,” said Stall, who trains 4-year-old Lea for his breeders, Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. “It’d be great if we could upset him.”

Lea, a winner in 4 of 6 starts, has the kind of speed to stay close to Wise Dan, at least as the race unfolds. The pace figures to be set by longshot Ol Army, who starts from the far outside post with Jon Court aboard, with Wise Dan and Lea prepared to pounce at a moment’s notice.

The others in the Firecracker lineup are Dimension, Finnegans Wake, Daddy Nose Best, and Seruni. Of those, maybe Seruni, with Corey Lanerie riding for trainer Phil Oliver, has the best chance to make at least some impact, as he was the runner-up behind Guys Reward in the 2012 Firecracker.

Wise Dan, winner of the 2011 Firecracker when he carried just 115 pounds in his grass debut, will attempt to become the first two-time winner of the race. He will try to match one of the many feats of his fellow Horse of the Year Curlin, the two-time champion (2007-08) whose 128 pounds in the 2008 Stephen Foster Handicap ranks as the heaviest for a winner of a Churchill stakes in recent memory.

The Firecracker anchors a terrific card that also includes the Grade 3, $100,000 Bashford Manor Stakes (race 7) and the $65,000 Kelly’s Landing (race 3). The theme for the night is “Star Spangled,” with fans encouraged to dress in red, white, and blue. General admission is $10.

Although the forecast for Saturday night calls for temperatures in the low 70s and only an outside chance of rain, the Churchill turf course could have some give to it after thunderstorms pounded this area through the middle of the week. The two turf races scheduled for Thursday were transferred to the main track.

Saturday’s card is the next-to-last program of the 38-day meet, with Sunday being closing day.

Eddie Smith More than 1 year ago
Gee, there's a G1 turf race at HOL today against legit horses. I guess that didn't fit the schedule. What a joke. No wonder this guy has never won more than 25 races in a year.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Adding weight to a horse goes back to the stone age to give an unsophisticated betting public a greater sense of honest racing. It doesn't belong in the present day and (information) age; in the same way that Lebron James or Michael Jordan are not required to play with heavier shoes. It's not a matter of wrong or right, but of an outdated way of thinking. Good luck cashing your 1/10 tickets.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Yeah right...That stone age filled the stands and had handle that can pay for the purse and operations of racetracks...now with specialist sprinters and milers and short career horses and with the dissapearrance of the truly great handicap horses from sprint to 2 miles ie Forego, the industry continue it's downward path to it's demise.....neglecting to breed great thoroughbreds that can go from 10 furlongs to further is why this sport continue to dry away.....but no one wants to admit it....
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
The odds are the purest way of reflecting the strength of the field. Throwing in an artificial equalizer is a joke in terms of pure bookmaking. And although I haven't studied this aspect, I would expect that bookmakers came up with the idea, because they didn't want everybody to bet on a huge favorite. Nowadays, with the information available, this kind of babying the public is pretty insulting. If you see value, bet. If not, don't.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Is that why the big bookmakers in Vegas give points to underdogs and take points away from the stronger team? This sport is supported by gambling dollars....well it used to ...now it's the casinos....Nowadays the INSULT is to tell the dwindling fan base and bettors that the horses today are that good and then cry about the impost.....you have any idea why this industry is dying??
Tyler Mathis More than 1 year ago
I'd laugh at 128 lbs, but seems I've been beaten to the punch...
Gustavo Garcia More than 1 year ago
And this is exactly why The Euro's don't even have to bring there "A" Horses to the east coast. There 2nd and 3rd string horses come here and beats these handily. Why?? Because they carry 128 in there MAIDEN races. All the way up to 134 and Dare I say 138. What a joke us in the big bad U.S.A complain about 128. haha!! Pathetic. And our Beloved Animal Kingdom felt the rath of going overseas and running VS. Real horses on Turf. Side note: If it wasn't for a bad break and traffic, He Beats Wise Dan in the BC Mile.
Rafael Acosta More than 1 year ago
No way he beats WD at a mile. If it wasn't for a silly little Y chromosome we would all be girls !! LOL
Rafael Acosta More than 1 year ago
Excelebration is not "second string". He came here and WD smoked him. Maybe, he could even take down Frankel at a mile .
scott More than 1 year ago
please don't mention WD in the same sentence as Frankel. It shows how little u understand turf racing.
Rafael Acosta More than 1 year ago
I'm sure I've been involved with Euro's on the turf than you kind sir!
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
Wise Dan would not stand a chance against Frankel. Frankel may have been the best turf miler in history - Wise Dan is a nice horse who won Horse of the Year in a weak year.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Frankel is way overrated!! he is like Easy Goer...cannot handle long tough turns....he can handle baby turns.....that is why Frankel ducked the Epsom and Arc....he cannot win those races and those tough tracks....but the British based Timefarth hype that British horse for what? breeding? FRANKEL IS A DAWN APPROACH CLONE.....
scott More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of Lopresti and how he's handled this horse.... but please stop talking about the weight. The only people that should complain about the weight in here are the other trainers. Why aren't they asking why Dan only has to carry 128?
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
JOHN HENRY (also a gelding) carried in the mid and high 130's on multiple occasions. He raced on dirt, slop, mud, turf and according to legend - the Jersey Turnpike (not really) against all comers and most of the time won. If he lost it wasn't for lack of trying. Now we think Wise Dan is also an exceptional gelding who can race on any surface, but the owner and trainer need to become SPORTSMEN and stop tippy-toeing around and crying over 4 or 5 pounds. Does anybody think that if he doesn't win every time he is diminished in any real sense. Do we think any less of Secretariat because he lost at the SPA - we think not!
Perl More than 1 year ago
In my day he would have carried 145 lbs and given them all a half furlong head start! Back in 1893, Phar Lap carried 69 pounds more than the rest of the field and won by ten lengths! Yadda yadda yadda!
D More than 1 year ago
Just another 3/5 shot that lights the board. This has been one of the worst CD Spring/Summer meets I can remember. It is starting to look like just a remake of Fairgrounds... either the blink wins in a short field OR a horse that no way you could bet wins and lights up the board at $80+. Outside of Derby week this meet has absolutely been nothing to talk about. Such a shame too I use to couldn't wait to get back to CD every meet and now its not even fun anymore.
Perl More than 1 year ago
Wise Dan, winner of 9 of his last 10 races, 6 of them Grade Ones, his only loss by a head in a G1 dirt race. What a horse!! He deserves all the accolades he's been getting. Good luck to Wise Dan tomorrow. Travel safely big man and come to Saratoga this summer please.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Its to bad that the connections of Wise Dan went back to rider John Valasquez Nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with JV but . Jose Lescano still and always been a better fit for this horse. It must have stung JL when he heard the news JV would be back aboard ..