04/10/2013 4:51PM

Keeneland: Horse of the Year Wise Dan will make history in Maker's 46 Mile

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Tom Keyser
Wise Dan, shown winning the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall, will launch his 6-year-old campaign in the Maker's 46 Mile.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – There’s a first time for everything, even at a track as old as Keeneland.

Wise Dan will become the first reigning Horse of the Year to make a comeback at 76-year-old Keeneland when he runs Friday in the Grade 1, $300,000 Maker’s 46 Mile, something that makes the gelding’s trainer, Charlie LoPresti, quite proud.

“It’s an honor because this is home,” said LoPresti, based at Keeneland for the last 15 years. “We’ll lead him over hoping he can start off another great year with a win.”

Wise Dan, bred and owned by Mort Fink, will be ridden by Jose Lezcano when breaking from the outside post and facing just four other older horses in the 25th running of the Maker’s 46. Lezcano will be substituting for regular rider John Velazquez, who is out several weeks with injuries sustained last weekend in a spill at Aqueduct.

Lezcano is familiar with Wise Dan, having ridden him to victory here last fall in the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile when Velazquez had a scheduling conflict.

“Johnny told me he and Jose have talked all about the horse,” said LoPresti. “We should be all set there.”

Wise Dan, now 6, was a runaway choice for Horse of the Year when winning all but one of his six starts in 2012, ending with a rousing triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita in early November. The gelding has had seven morning workouts since getting his customary winter respite, and LoPresti is eager for afternoon action to commence.

“He’s given me every indication that he’s the same horse,” LoPresti said. “I mean, I don’t want to get cocky and come over here and say we’re going to run off and win because this is actually just a starting point. We’d love to win, of course. But I’m going to take everything one step at a time and just hope he shows up like we know he can.”

The foursome facing Wise Dan are not of the same caliber of runners that finished behind him in the BC Mile last fall, those being Animal Kingdom, Obviously, and Excelebration. Still, this is a Grade 1, and LoPresti is particularly fearful of Data Link, a Shug McGaughey-trained 5-year-old who upset the Maker’s 46 last spring at 12-1.

“He’s really improved and matured, even from last year when he won,” said LoPresti. “I think if anybody can jump up and beat us Friday it’d be him.”

Data Link will break right alongside Wise Dan in post 4 when ridden by Javier Castellano. Since winning the Maker’s 46 last spring, Data Link has won three graded stakes, ending with the Grade 3 Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park in his most recent start Feb. 23. The horse shows a series of four sharp workouts in the interim.

LoPresti said he has no plan for Wise Dan beyond working backward from a return to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in November. He said he “seriously doubted” he would try running back in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the May 4 Kentucky Derby undercard but that he does have his eye on another Grade 1 race at Churchill Downs in June: the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, a dirt race in which Wise Dan was narrowly defeated last year.

“I would really like to get that one,” admitted LoPresti.

From the rail, and with jockeys, this is the rest of the field for the Maker’s 46: Silentio, Rafael Bejarano; Mr. Commons, Corey Nakatani; and Skyring, Rosie Napravnik.

Silentio, in from Southern California for Gary Mandella, is developing into a terrific miler. In his last race, the 4-year-old colt lost a head-bobbing photo to the well regarded Suggestive Boy in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile on March 3 at Santa Anita.

Under allowance conditions, Wise Dan will spot the opposition three to five pounds when carrying 123 pounds.

Since the Horse of the Year award was first given to Ack Ack in 1971, a number of those honorees have returned to racing the following year. Over the last 25 years, nine of 10 who returned have won their comeback races, with only Rachel Alexandra failing to do so when second in her 2010 debut.

First post Friday is 1:05 p.m. Eastern, with the Maker’s 46 set for 5:13. TVG will provide full-day coverage.

Although temperatures soared into the 80s here Wednesday, a cooling trend was forecast for the coming days, with a high of only 56 projected for Friday.