06/29/2013 10:20PM

Churchill Downs: Wise Dan squeezes past rival to win Firecracker

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year, found just enough room along the hedge to surge to victory Saturday night in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Many of the victories for Wise Dan during his storybook career have been things of beauty.

Not this one.

“It wasn’t a very pretty race,” said a relieved Charlie LoPresti after Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year, managed to overcome a tough trip, soggy turf, and his 128-pound impost Saturday night in winning the 23rd running of the Grade 2, $168,450 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs. “It wasn’t very pretty at all.”

On a stormy night marked by huge downpours and lightning strikes, Wise Dan and jockey John Velazquez emerged the winners by two lengths after the 6-year-old gelding finally extricated himself from traffic and quickly spurted clear in the final furlong of the one-mile turf race.

Wise Dan returned $2.40 as the heavy favorite in a field that was reduced to just five starters after three scratches. Lea, the 9-2 second choice, was up late to get second by a half-length over Seruni. The winning time over a yielding course was 1:39.82.

The wet conditions nearly led LoPresti to scratch Wise Dan.

“I was this close to scratching,” he said, holding his finger and thumb an inch apart. “If there’d been one more big downpour, I was going to do it.”

But he didn’t, and fans got to see Wise Dan win ugly. Boxed in for much of the way by Lea and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. after breaking from the inside post, he squeezed through along the hedge nearing the eighth pole while racing inside of Seruni, who had led from the start under Corey Lanerie.

At one point, Wise Dan appeared to brush the hedge, and after surging clear, he bobbled noticeably with about 70 yards to the finish.

Velazquez said the racing surface – and not the trip nor the impost – was his biggest concern. “It had taken a lot of water,” he said. “I was just trying to get him around there.”

He said the other jockeys “were just doing their jobs,” and that he was glad to get through. At a critical point, he said he saw an opening, and “that was it.”

Wise Dan was spotting his rivals 11 to 15 pounds while winning for the seventh straight time and the 10th in his last 11 races. Bred and owned by Morton Fink, the gelding has won 16 of 23 overall, with the Firecracker earnings of $104,439 giving him a bankroll of $4,164,070.

LoPresti has targeted the Breeders’ Cup in November at Santa Anita as the long-term goal for Wise Dan, although he has not declared which race he will choose. Last year, Wise Dan won the BC Mile before being voted Horse of the Year.

LoPresti said he most likely will run Wise Dan in the Aug. 10 Fourstardave and/or the Aug. 31 Bernard Baruch on the Saratoga turf.

The $2 exacta (2-4) paid $5, and the $1 trifecta (2-4-7) returned a mere $4.10.

Attendance was 19,753. Saturday marked the penultimate program of the 38-day spring meet. First post for the closing-day card Sunday is 12:45 p.m. Eastern.

Adam DeSantis More than 1 year ago
I would never let John V ride that horse again, not after that ride...WD did not look all that good running in the stretch I hope he came back healthy. WD won that race on his own will no thanks to the jock who not only almost cost him the race, almost got him killed as well.
J.L. Boey More than 1 year ago
Nothing wrong with that ride. Only lesser jockeys go wide all the time, some do that on auto pilot. He broke from the first post saving ground. Watch the 2012 Fourstardave - his breakout race.
Tom V More than 1 year ago
Velazquez gave him a horrible ride, what was he doing on the inside with a horse like WD. Horrible, Hey Chuck take him off for Saratoga or get beat.
scott More than 1 year ago
To everyone who wants WD to take on new challenges this year.... I ask, what would be the point? By keeping this horse happy and in his comfort zone (mile/turf) he is money in the bank, and a lot of it. Why put any extra stress on this horse? You do realize that all the comparisons of who is better than who are meaningless right? Since his schedule was pretty well laid out in April anyone who wants to face WD should just gear up for SAR/WB/KEE or the BC.
Dan Fidel More than 1 year ago
As game as this horse was, between getting pocketed, squeezed, and what appeared to me shying away and bobbling where the hedge turned into the white rail, he never should have been allowed to run by LoPrestie.Competitive conditions such as high weight are one thing. A blatantly inundated grass course is downright dangerous. This is the reigning horse of the year! He does"nt get put in that situation. Their fortunate to have a horse today. Obviously, he outclassed his connections as well as the rest of the field.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Agree with most of the comments, especially those about the condition of the course. Wise Dan is a champion through and through. Not too many horses would have persevered while getting squeezed and brushed against the hedge like that. You can't really blame Lanerie for trying to intimidate Velasquez. As someone already posted, back in the day you just didn't allow anyone to come up the hedge or rail if you were on the lead. I hope Wise Dan came out of the race in good order. Tough call by LoPresti.
Siya Villanueva More than 1 year ago
EL bravo eres tu John V. Y Wise Dan el # 1 ok.Wow wow .
kwtalk More than 1 year ago
Wow! He wanted to go on so bad but was stuck in that pocket. Great win but had a bit of luck on his side to get out! I hope the stumble didn't strain anything.
John Piassek More than 1 year ago
The Fourstardave? If they were upset about the weight here, imagine what they'd think about the Fourstardave weight. I'd try either the Whitney or the Arlington Million next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think that was the point of making an issue of the weight..... campaigning for future handicaps
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Arlington Million is 10f. Wise Dan has never won at 10f, dirt or turf. He is a turf miler and a very good one. Last night's race enhanced his stature as no wfa race could, for he gave away weight, was caught in a blind switch, and still found a way to win.
not impressed More than 1 year ago
Steinlen was an excellent turf miler and HE won the Arlington Million. So why couldn't Dan? I don't buy the "he's never won at 10f" deal. If you don't try you can't win.
bill More than 1 year ago
I agree with this. Yes, he's never won going 10f, but how many times has he lost going 10f. Never know til you try it. Who knows, maybe he'll be better at 10
Perl More than 1 year ago
I am not convinced he can't get 10f but his connections seem to be.
Christopher Clark More than 1 year ago
100f may be much to ask, I'm more concerned over the poor judgement shown in running in a race that has nothing too offer to such a great horse,
J.L. Boey More than 1 year ago
That's because you're not thinking clearly. If people really think about it, most would go for $300k almost certain $$ than really rolling the dice for $600k. If he goes on to win the Woodbine, Shadwell and BC miles like he did last year, that's $2mil more and 11 races in a row - 8x G1 and 3x G2, an awesome accomplishment by any standard. After he wins back to back Horse of The Year, perhaps they would be more inclined to take the gloves off. There's a $5mil race in Dubai that is perfect for Wise Dan. After that he'll be $1.5mil shy of becoming the richest racehorse in America in terms of winnings. Being crowned HOTY doesn't mean that the horse has to run in strictly G1 races after that. There is no truth to that. In fact, in the past 25 years only these Horses of The Year made their following start in a G1: Sunday Silence, Holy Bull, Cigar, Skip Away, Azeri, Ghostzapper, Invasor, and of course, Wise Dan. Sterling company! The rest either retired or ran in a lesser race in their next start; Curlin in a non-graded stakes, Tiznow in a G2, and Favorite Trick in a G3.
scott More than 1 year ago
Nice post J.L., good comments on HOTY returning, I agree with all you wrote there. People need to realize it's about keeping this horse on schedule, not whether it's grade one or grade two. No point in shipping west yesterday, they can do that in Nov.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
wise dan made his first two return races in gr. 1 races this year
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Win ugly ?....really ?...i must be watching the wrong video. What i saw was WISE DAN carry 128 lb over soft turf and win rather easily despite being pinned on the rail for much of the race...after he got thru the was no doubt he would win. And the 2nd best horse ran 2nd....so what exactly was the problem with the track ...come on drf stop trying to be the n.y. post and creating controversy and drama when it never happened.
Michael Castellano More than 1 year ago
That race should have never been run on the turf. A couple of times Wise Dan took bad steps, including one right near the wire. The track was fearful of scratches and was afraid of losing Wise Dan, which is why they didn't change to dirt. Very greedy and bush league. I just hope the horse comes out of the race OK..Both the jockeys and the horses were risking their lives in that mess. They never would have run the race in a place like Belmont Park in New York on such turf.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
so a sloppy wet dirt track is safer than soft turf ? ....check the stats for breakdowns on soft turf worldwide versus sloppy dirt....wet dirt racing is way more hazardous...besides this race was the most form full race in the country for the day...best horse won rather easily despite 128lb and the 2nd best horse got 2nd.
J.L. Boey More than 1 year ago
That's why NYC isn't what it used to be. We have lost much of our grittiness.
Tom V More than 1 year ago
I agree, WD would have run on the sloppy track. the turf was more dangerous then the main track. What a waste of a race after all the scratches anyway.