04/23/2012 11:37AM

Keeneland notes: Wise Dan targets Stephen Foster Handicap after dazzling Ben Ali win

Coady Photography/Keeneland
Wise Dan earns a 117 Beyer Speed Figure for his 10 1/2-length win in the Ben Ali.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – There weren’t many happier people on the planet Sunday night than Charlie Lopresti, who was absolutely ecstatic after watching Wise Dan dominate the Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland in a record-setting performance after a five-month layoff.

Wise Dan, bred and owned by Morton Fink, earned a 117 Beyer Speed Figure from his 10 1/2-length victory, which came in 1:46.63 and broke both the Polytrack and stakes record.

Acknowledging how well Wise Dan ran off the bench, Lopresti said the 5-year-old gelding will run next in the Grade 1, $400,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 16.

“I can’t bring myself to run him again before that,” Lopresti said.

The huge effort by Wise Dan completed an April trifecta of sorts for Lopresti, since his other two handicap stars both ran very well after being laid up all winter: Successful Dan won an April 6 allowance race and Turallure was narrowly beaten in the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile on April 13. Successful Dan runs next in the Alysheba on the May 4 Kentucky Oaks undercard, and Turallure goes next in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the May 5 Kentucky Derby undercard.

The Ben Ali clocking by Wise Dan bested the previous Keeneland records of 1:46.77 for Polytrack (Carriage Trail, 2008) and 1:46.78 for the stakes (Midway Road, 2004).

Senada, Upperline back for Bewitch

A field of eight fillies and mares has been entered for the Thursday feature at Keeneland, the Grade 3, $150,000 Bewitch Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on turf. Senada and Upperline, the respective one-two finishers in the Dowager here last fall, both have returned.

From the rail, the Bewitch field is Here to Win, Shimmering Moment, Senada, Woodford Belle, Upperline, Distorted Alice, Hemera, and Thislilsoulofmine.

The Bewitch (race 8) is directly preceded on a nine-race Thursday card by a third-level allowance that drew such stakes-seasoned runners as It’s Tea Time and Bizzy Caroline.

The Bewitch is the sister race to the Grade 2, $150,000 Elkhorn Stakes, which helps close out the 15-day meet Friday. Entries for the Elkhorn were to be drawn Tuesday, with Center Divider, Musketier, Newsdad, and Point of Entry among the likely favorites.

Big field expected for Derby Trial

Churchill Downs in Louisville will open its spring meet Saturday night with the Grade 3, $200,000 Derby Trial, a one-mile race expected to get a big field.

At least 12 3-year-olds, none of them candidates to run back a week later in the Derby, are likely when entries for the 88th Trial are taken Wednesday. Among the likely favorites are Bourbon Courage, a romping winner of his two career starts, and Paynter, fourth in the Santa Anita Derby.

Other probables include Hierro, Kid Sidney, Motor City, Nonios, Quick Wit, Saint of Saints, Seve, Shared Property, Stealcase, and The Black.

This will be the second year the Trial is run at night as Churchill has shifted all of its spring night programs from Fridays to Saturdays this year. In fact, the Foster will be on one of those Saturday night cards. Last year, 38,142 turned out for the Trial, a record for night racing at Churchill.

Trainers’ race down to the wire

While Julien Leparoux effectively clinched another Keeneland riding title with his record-tying six-win day Friday, the trainers’ race is not quite as settled as the final three-day stretch commences Wednesday.

From 25 starters, Wesley Ward holds the lead with six winners – he also has had some wicked beats in compiling eight seconds – while five others are tied for second with four winners. Ward, seeking his first Keeneland title, has horses entered in six races on the next two cards (Wednesday and Thursday), but several of his closest pursuers, including Mike Maker, Ken McPeek, and Graham Motion, also have quite a few still to run. It wouldn’t be inconceivable that one or more of them pass, or at least tie, Ward on Friday.

Meanwhile, Leparoux has a 21-8 lead over Jimmy Graham atop the jockey standings and surely will win his eighth title from the last 13 Keeneland meets.

Flash Mash overcomes her nerves

Flash Mash, winner of the Giant’s Causeway here Saturday for her first stakes victory, has overcome some curious problems regarding her fear of crowds, thanks to the work of Mike Stidham and his staff. It seems the 4-year-old filly has had a longstanding habit of freezing up when she realizes she is going to be racing.

At Fair Grounds this winter, “she started this thing where she would start to freeze up in the paddock,” Stidham said. Ultimately, Stidham figured it probably was she was afraid of crowds, so he schooled her in the Keeneland paddock and runway about 10 times in the afternoons leading up to her race. Even in the runway Saturday, the filly froze, but Stidham led her out, nearly running, and continued onto the Polytrack for a couple hundred yards before handing her off to an outrider.

Flash Mash surged in the final yards to nip Well Deserved in the Giant’s Causeway, which was run at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

Wigginton no longer training

This was the first Keeneland meet in many years that trainer Jesse “Sonny” Wigginton did not run a horse. Wigginton, 77, disbanded what was left of his stable and turned them over to his longtime assistant, Dean Ward, after sending out his last starter on the final day of the 2011 Churchill fall meet.

Wigginton, who began training in 1966, said his Parkinson’s disease had become too debilitating to carry on.

“You run out of racetrack,” said Wigginton, who lives in Lexington, “but the game goes on.”

Wigginton has retained an ownership interest in a few horses, including George Ray, an 8-year-old gelding who runs Wednesday in the second race.

◗ Beware the Kiaran McLaughlin-to-Greg Burchell angle, which comes into play in the fifth race Wednesday with a 4-year-old filly named Stephanie Jayne. On Saturday, that same trainer shift was in effect with Brilliant Autumn, who ran off and hid in beating $50,000 maiden-claimers by 4 1/4 lengths. Brilliant Autumn was the first starter for Burchell since last November.

◗ Churchill announced Monday that Mary J. Blige, the Grammy-winning singer nicknamed the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul,” will sing the national anthem before the Derby this year. The anthem is scheduled for about 90 minutes before the Derby on the NBC broadcast at 5:10 p.m. Eastern.