11/25/2011 6:56PM

Churchill Downs: Wise Dan helps soften blow of last year's Clark DQ

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Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs
Wise Dan wins the Grade 1 Clark Friday at Churchill Downs under John Velazquez.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – They can’t take this one away from them. Owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie Lopresti thought they had won the Clark Handicap last year when Successful Dan crossed under the wire first, but a disqualification left them quite unhappy.

This year, a different Dan – another Fink homebred gelding, Wise Dan – had no such mishaps in cruising to a 3 3/4-length victory Friday at Churchill Downs in the 137th running of the $572,500 Clark, a Grade 1 race with multiple storylines in its aftermath.

“I was really disappointed last year,” said the Keeneland-based Lopresti, who three weeks ago sent out Turallure to a narrow defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. “It’s a dream come true to be back here with this many good horses.”

With John Velazquez aboard, Wise Dan always was in a comfortable position when tracking the early pace set by Will’s Wildcat in the 1 1/8-mile Clark. Mission Impazible was just ahead of him for much of the way and actually got first run turning for home. But down the stretch, it was no contest as Wise Dan began getting the better of Mission Impazible leaving the eighth pole en route to his decisive win.

Wise Dan, second choice in a field of 13 3-year-olds and up, returned $11 after finishing in 1:48.95 over a fast track. Flat Out, the 2-1 favorite, had no excuses when checking in third, another 2 3/4 lengths behind. Mister Marti Gras, a 19-1 shot, was another 1 1/4 lengths back in fourth.

For Fink and Lopresti, the victory was sweet revenge for what occurred here last year when Successful Dan, now 5, seemed to prove clearly best, only to be disqualified for being involved in a massive midstretch traffic jam in a very roughly run race.

“I just didn’t understand why they took his number down, but they saw it that way and I have to respect their [the stewards] opinion,” Lopresti said. “I jokingly said surely we don’t get taken down this year.”

For Velazquez, it was another big 2011 victory at Churchill, following a far more meaningful score – his victory aboard Animal Kingdom in the 137th Kentucky Derby in May.

“I like these pickup mounts,” said Velazquez, who was substituting for regular rider Julien Leparoux, who was in California to ride favored Never Retreat in the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood Park. Velazquez got the Derby mount only after Robby Albarado, who was named on the program to ride Animal Kingdom, incurred a facial injury during Derby week.

The Clark win was the second for the New York-based Velazquez, following his 2005 score on Magna Graduate.

For Flat Out, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban in what has been a busy and productive year, his bid for an Eclipse Award as top older horse of 2011 may have taken a hit with his 6 1/2-length defeat. The 5-year-old horse once again ran a subpar race at Churchill and now is winless in four starts here.

“I think that’s what we’ve got to kind of face,” trainer Scooter Dickey said. “He was laying perfect over there . . . but he just looked like he got to fighting it.”

Likewise, 3-year-old divisional honors seemed to evaporate for Ruler On Ice with his fifth-place finish as the co-second choice.

Run under the lights in early evening following what had been a sunny and pleasant late-autumn afternoon, Will’s Wildcat, a 21-1 shot with Calvin Borel up, set fractions of 23.80 seconds, 48.24, and 1:12.80 before the others came to call. Mission Impazible, a 7-1 shot under Javier Castellano, seemed full of energy passing the quarter pole and fully prepared to repel the lurking Wise Dan, but that just wasn’t happening.

“We had a beautiful spot,” Castellano said. “I think we were just second best today.”

Wise Dan, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Wiseman’s Ferry, once again demonstrated his versatility in winning the Clark. From his four previous starts, the 4-year-old gelding won the Grade 2 Firecracker on the Churchill turf, the $250,000 Presque Isle Downs on synthetic, and the Grade 3 Fayette with ease on the Keeneland Polytrack. Overall, he now has won 8 of 14 starts, with his Friday earnings of $326,554 lifting his bankroll to $919,601.

After Mister Marti Gras and Ruler On Ice, the complete Clark order was Headache, Alma d’Oro, Will’s Wildcat, Prayer for Relief, Stately Victor, Demarcation, Pleasant Prince, and General Quarters.

The $2 exacta (11-5) paid $79.80; the $1 trifecta (11-5-6) paid $187.80; and the dime super (11-5-6-9) came back $293.31.