07/04/2011 5:45PM

Churchill Downs: Wise Dan takes to turf in Firecracker win

Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Wise Dan, ridden by Jon Court, wins the Grade 2 Firecracker by 2 3/4 lengths.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The last time Churchill Downs ended a meet with a big weekend, Charlie Lopresti drove home to Lexington in bitter disappointment. Lopresti sent out Successful Dan to finish first in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap last November, only to see the horse disqualified to third.

No such frustration awaited Lopresti on Monday, when Churchill closed out its 39-day spring meet with the Grade 2, $203,000 Firecracker Handicap. Wise Dan, making his turf debut, ran off to a 2 3/4-length upset over nine other older horses, exacting a measure of vindication for Lopresti and for Morton Fink, who bred and owns both Successful Dan and Wise Dan.

“Wow, this is great,” said a smiling Lopresti, who is based year-round at Keeneland. “The horse just ran huge.”

Wise Dan returned $30.60 as seventh choice after finishing the one-mile distance in 1:34.59 over a firm course.

Baryshnikov, the 5-2 favorite, rallied from well back to take second by a neck from Strike Impact. General Quarters, the 5-2 second choice, beat a steady fade when finishing seventh.

Wise Dan got a perfect stalking trip under Jon Court to register his first victory since an allowance here last fall on the day before the Clark. Wise Dan, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Wiseman’s Ferry, became the first horse to win the Firecracker in his turf debut since the race was moved to the turf in 1993.

Amid sultry conditions, longshot Plutonium set the pace, with Strike Impact lapped onto his flank. Meanwhile, Court had Wise Dan in an ideal spot right behind them.

“I was just trying to get him to lope along, have him relaxed until I needed him to punch it in,” said Court. “Once it came time, he really gave me what he had.”

Wise Dan had showed his quality before. In just his fourth start, he won the Grade 3 Phoenix over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland last fall, earning him a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which he finished a respectable sixth. However, the gelding had gone winless in three starts this year, and combined with his inexperience on grass, horseplayers chose to dismiss him at 14-1 when the field was loaded for the 21st Firecracker. Lopresti said a sharp June 28 work over the Churchill turf convinced him to give the Firecracker a try.

“Some horses, it just takes a few races,” said Lopresti.

Wise Dan now has won half of his 10 starts, with the $119,567 winner’s share lifting his career bankroll to $323,047.

Lopresti said the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Mile probably will be the end-of-year goal for Wise Dan, but that he was unsure what races would come in between.

Successful Dan has been hindered by a tendon injury since being rested following the Clark, and Lopresti said that while he expects the 5-year-old gelding to eventually return to action, it may not be until 2012.

Leparoux, Asmussen win titles

The spring meet ended with Julien Leparoux as the leading rider with 53 wins, six more than Corey Lanerie, marking the eighth time Leparoux has won or tied for that honor at a Churchill meet.

Steve Asmussen was the leading trainer with 18 wins, marking his fifth title in a row at Churchill and the 10th time overall he has won or tied here. Ken McPeek and Eddie Kenneally were just behind with 17 wins, followed by Tom Amoss with 15.

Midwest Thoroughbreds was leading owner with eight wins.

* With the end of the meet mandating payouts in jackpot wagers Monday, the $2 pick six paid $1,054.80 (4 of 6) and the $1 super high five paid $10,666 (first 3 finishers), with no perfect tickets sold in either. There were no carryovers going into either wager.