01/01/2014 11:48AM

Dick Jerardi: Wise Dan best choice for Horse of the Year

Debra A. Roma
Wise Dan had to frequently overcome one obstacle or another during his 2013 campaign.

As I filled out my Eclipse ballot, I typed one horse’s name three times. My memory is that last year I tried to get cute and only typed Wise Dan once, in the Horse of the Year category.

This year, I voted for Wise Dan as best older male, best male turf horse, and Horse of the Year.

I have read some of my colleagues’ thoughts about Horse of the Year. There are some interesting arguments to be made. In the end, I did not think it was all that complicated.

I tried to make a case for some other very good candidates who won very significant races. I looked at Will Take Charge, Mucho Macho Man, Game On Dude, and Beholder. Those four won a combined 11 Grade 1 races.

Will Take Charge and Mucho Macho Man each lost more than he won. Will Take Charge actually lost four races by a combined 65 lengths. As good as he was from July to November, I just can’t get past that. Mucho Macho Man only ran five times and won only at Santa Anita, a track he obviously loves. They were great wins, but just not enough for me.

Game On Dude was terrific in all his races, except the race where all the serious competition showed up. I admire his consistency and all those gigantic Beyer Figures, but, in the end, beating Kettle Corn twice and Clubhouse Ride three times is not Horse of the Year worthy.

Beholder is a fascinating case for Horse of the Year. She ran seven times and ran winning races every time. She was beaten after a wild speed duel in her season debut and she was beaten in the Kentucky Oaks after leaving the other speed horses in the stretch and getting run down by the sensational Princess of Sylmar at the wire. She won her other five races with complete ease, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff,where she made a legendary field look average and ran through that inside speed bias like it did not exist.

That she did not run against males is not a disqualifier for me, but, given that there is a very worthy male candidate who was every bit as consistent as she was, I came back to Wise Dan.

I put Beholder second on my Horse of the Year ballot, but felt very badly for the connections of Princess of Sylmar when I put the great Pennsylvania-bred second on my 3-year-old filly ballot. Not sure what I would have done if they had just gone with their original plan to keep Princess of Sylmar home in New York and passed the Distaff. It would have been very hard for me to pass on a filly who won the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama, and Beldame in succession.

I have read and heard the knocks on Wise Dan, the horses he beat and the campaign trainer Charlie Lopresti designed for his 2012 Horse of the Year. I disagree with all of them.

Would I have liked to seen Wise Dan run on dirt or artificial (on a day other than when his grass engagement was not rained to Polytrack)? Sure.

But I just had to watch this horse run to appreciate his greatness. Wise Dan loves the competition and he thrives on it.

With the exception of the Woodbine Mile, which may have been the greatest performance of the horse’s career (and that’s saying something for a horse who has won 19 times and earned more than $6.2 million), I thought Wise Dan had to overcome obstacles of one sort or another in every race.

He caught soggy or worse grass courses three times. Lopresti never scratched, even on courses that were going to test a horse with Wise Dan’s instant acceleration. The horse simply found another way to win. Remember on Derby Day when Wise Dan was going to meet Point of Entry in the Turf Classic in the middle of their optimum distances (1 1/8 miles), it was Point of Entry who was scratched because of the yielding course.

In his lone defeat, I thought Wise Dan was heroic. He was pushed way out on the first turn and never stopped trying to catch lone speed Silver Max on the Keeneland Polytrack. I thought Silver Max caught a surface he loved and ran great. His 108 Beyer proves how good he was that day.

Wise Dan carved out a relatively easy trip when he won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile. He was much farther back than usual in the 2013 Mile. He found traffic. He had to go wide. But he was relentless once he got into the stretch and he did what he does best – win.

My favorite Wise Dan statistic is that he has run second exactly twice.