12/26/2013 1:48PM

Jay Hovdey: Wise Dan earns his downtime


What do you get for the horse that’s done everything, or at least everything he’s been asked? In the case of Wise Dan, you let him do exactly what he does this time every year, which is hang out with a pal in a paddock on the farm of Charlie and Amy LoPresti near Lexington, Ky., weather permitting.

“We turn him out around this time every morning, once the frost gets off the grass, and he’ll live outside until, oh, five o’clock this afternoon,” Charlie LoPresti said. “He and Successful Dan – they’re side by side.”

It was Thursday morning, the day after Christmas, and LoPresti was describing the “horse” part of horse racing, when Thoroughbreds are allowed to revert to the deepest threads of their DNA and let the seasons rule their world. Wise Dan may have earned more than $6 million, but as an upstanding member of the breed he is perfectly content to grow a thick coat of chestnut hair and nibble at what winter grass can be found, far from anything resembling the action that has made him America’s most popular Thoroughbred.

“I hear it all the time,” LoPresti said, a little laugh in his voice. “‘Why isn’t that horse in South Florida?’ ‘Why isn’t he getting ready to go to Dubai?’ Some people just can’t figure out how it is we do this. But these racehorses have four legs, a mane, and a tail. You could treat them like a china doll, but if you treat them like horses they know how to be horses. And I think in the long run it preserves a horse like Wise Dan. If you keep a horse like him in training all the time he is going to develop problems. Most horses do. It’s not the racing that gets them so much as the everyday training.”

Now 6 coming 7, Wise Dan received a thorough check-up from Dr. Larry Bramlage at the nearby Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in the wake of his second straight victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.

“I was halfway scared to death when I sent him over that maybe they’d find something he had that I didn’t know about and didn’t want to know about,” LoPresti said. “They can have a little chip or something niggling at them, and the only way to know for sure is to do a whole-body bone scan to see if anything lights up. Nothing did. Dr. Bramlage said for a horse as old as him who runs as hard as he does, he looks pretty doggone good.”

In the winter of 1981, at the end of John Henry’s 6-year-old campaign, trainer Ron McAnally decided to send the gelding from Santa Anita to the Galway Downs Training Center, near the town of Temecula, for some well-deserved R&R. It was the least the trainer could do. After all, John Henry had just completed a Horse of the Year campaign during which he raced 10 times and won eight, competing from mid-February to early December. He won the Santa Anita Handicap and the Jockey Club Gold Cup on the dirt and six stakes on grass, including the inaugural running of the Arlington Million.

But he didn’t like farm life, or anything resembling it. John Henry was at Galway barely two weeks before McAnally brought him back to the track on Jan. 7, 1982. He worked eight times over the next two months, then took his second straight Santa Anita Handicap upon the disqualification of Perrault, who finished first by a nose.

“How they deal with being turned out really depends on how they were handled as young horses and how they were raised,” LoPresti noted. “Most of the horses I have anymore I’ve broken as yearlings and brought them along my own way.

“Some horses, you turn them out in a paddock and they don’t know what to do,” LoPresti said. “They haven’t been in one since they were a yearling, and all they do is run the fence and fret. But Wise Dan, as soon as he goes on that trailer and gets off at our house he knows the difference.”

Wise Dan should be back to the races in the spring. In the meantime, on the Eclipse Awards ballots now in circulation, he is a candidate for the same three honors he won in 2012 – older male, turf male, and Horse of the Year. LoPresti says he’s not losing any sleep over the results.

“There’s no pressure on me and no pressure on Wise Dan,” the trainer said. “If he gets the Eclipse Award again that will be great. If he doesn’t I’m not going to jump off the Delaware Bridge with a rope around my neck.”

As for Wise Dan, the day after Christmas was pretty much like the day before.

“Yesterday they were out all day long,” LoPresti said. “Amy and I went to the barn – everything walked – then we went in and sat by the fire. Around 4 we went out and brought Wise Dan and Successful Dan down to the barn, took their bandages off, checked their legs good, gave them some feed and a pat on the neck and said, ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”