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Jay Hovdey: Wise Dan earns his downtime
By Jay Hovdey
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.’ ”
Ann, Thanks for the informative, well written piece on horses getting time away from racing and how it's been handled through the years. This would have made a great read as an article on DRF.com or any other site concerned with racing and caring for horses. Please share your knowledge on topics that come up down the road. Much better than reading many of the smart a--s remarks that often show up here!
Dr. Bramlage said for a horse as old as him who runs as hard as he does, he looks pretty "horsegone" good.”
This was once the norm for many East Coast horses. Aqudeuct major racing ended with the Ladies and the JC Gold Cup the second week of November. . Going to the farm for a couple months, be ready for the opening of Jamaica/Aqueduct in mid-March; this is the schedule Secretariat followed. Mid-West racing was over by the end of November and time at the farm followed - see the Bradleys, who still do it today. Others might go to Aiken, S. Carolina, for an easy, farm-like atmosphere for maintenance training. In California, the break was earlier in the season. Before 1968, there was no major racing in So Cal after Hollywood closed in mid July. Del Mar was not what it has become today and Oak Tree did not exist, much less the Hollywood fall meet. Some So Cal horses would ship east and try to make noise vs. the top East Coast horses (and they often did) but for many of the rest, it was some fair racing or Bay Meadows before a rest until Santa Anita opened. Aussies call this giving a horse 'a spell' (they pronounce it closer to 'spill', which confused me at first, hearing that a horse was coming back from a 'spill') and it is a built-in part of their racing calendar. In August, the horses start building up for the spring racing, which culminates with the Flemington Carnival in late Oct/early Nov. Then many horses have a spell, before they start the build-up in Feb for the Sydney Easter Carnival in April. Then perhaps a spell until the spring. Of course, there are major races during late fall/winter races in Queensland, but the top horses can skip them and lose no caste thereby.Similarly, the December G1s in Perth attract some shippers from out east, but it is mostly local horses taking part. The North European March to November flat racing season is dictated by the climate and the fact that they run all major races on turf. Soft, boggy turf is great for chasers landing over fences, but make a mockery of form in flat races. The better horses get turned out for several months; only the lesser lights run on the AW tracks, which came about some 20 years ago or less. Year-around racing takes a toll on many horses, who are not machines. Some horses thrive on continuous racing - notably my first 'Derby horse' Jim French - but most will need a rest at some point. A real rest, not staying at the track under light training - IMHO, Rachel A. would have benefited more by going to the farm so that her brain and nervous system could recover, instead of 'resting' at the track, with its constant bustle and noise.
The LoPresti's sound like nice, down to earth people. Good to hear a little update on the Dan's too. Turnout is great, but it can be risky. I think more horses get hurt in pastures than anywhere. Neither staying at the track for down time, nor turnout, is perfection.
Wow! Horsemen who actually know horses! They do need time to just be horses. They get bored doing the same thing everyday just like we do. And yes training is hard on them. Good for them to give him time off and not just hand walking like so many do for their "vacation."
There should be more owners and Trainers that follow this path with there good horses,I feel all horses need a little down Time,they are not machines,Have a great Vacation Dan you deserve it.
This was a great read, a horse has got to be allowed to be a horse. Perfect Drift had the same kind of "down time" too, and he was a good one. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about our HoY :) Seriously, posts are moderated?
Why would this article be moderated? This is about our HoY, nothing maudlin about it...
Great story, (maybe just a tad maudlin :), but thoroughly enjoyed reading about our HoY.. Perfect Drift had much the same routine, too. A horse has got to be allowed to be a horse. Hoping he has a great winter and come's back as determined as ever!
Wise Dan and Successful Dan. Two classy brothers of the same mother chilling out together in some barn in Kentucky. How awesome is that?
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