10/04/2012 12:59PM

Keeneland: Wise Dan brings exceptional speed and talent to Shadwell Turf Mile

Michael Burns
Wise Dan enters the Shadwell Turf Mile with a string of five triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The accolade “freak” is overused in racing, as any first-time starter winning by open lengths might be labeled as such.

But when racing fans call Wise Dan a freak, they do it with sincerity, often with wide eyes and a shaking head. Some of the performances turned in by the 5-year-old gelding have been truly mind-blowing, including his most recent appearance at Keeneland in the spring and more recent back-to-back victories in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Fourstardave and the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile. Wise Dan has posted triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last five starts, with a high of 117 for his 10 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Ben Ali here in the spring.

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Even Charlie Lopresti, who trains Wise Dan for owner-breeder Morton Fink, sometimes finds it hard to believe how fast the horse runs.

“It’s nothing I’ve done,” said the ever-modest Lopresti. “He’s just a horse with incredible talent. My job is to keep him healthy and happy and get him to the races in the best shape we can.”

The widely anticipated next race for Wise Dan comes Saturday in the richest race on the biggest day of the 17-day Keeneland fall meet. Eleven others have entered to try him in 27th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile, a Win and You’re In race toward the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. The Shadwell is one of five graded races, including two other Grade 1’s, on a sensational 10-race card which starts at 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

Lopresti did not commit Wise Dan to the Shadwell until Tuesday after consulting at length with Fink. A primary issue was the timing: It will be just three weeks since Wise Dan dominated the Woodbine Mile by 3 1/4 lengths, and then it will be four more weeks to the BC Mile.

“I thought, you know, if I don’t run, I’m going to have to breeze this horse probably Saturday or next Tuesday or somewhere along in there, and then I’m going to have to work him two, maybe more times for the Breeders’ Cup,” said Lopresti. “And I thought: You know what, all I really have to do is lead him across the street and run him. And maybe I’m doing the wrong thing, but it’s kind of hard to look into the crystal ball. But the horse has never been better. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it.”

With regular rider John Velazquez already committed to ride Saturday at Belmont Park, Lopresti has turned to Jose Lezcano as a substitute for the Shadwell. Clearly it will be incumbent upon Lezcano to keep the speedy Wise Dan (post 5) going at a controlled early clip, as several other speed horses, most notably Silver Max (post 10) and Dominus (post 11), are in the Shadwell lineup.

Dominus, with Julien Leparoux riding for trainer Todd Pletcher, is something of the wild card after winning the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch with authority in his last race. The Baruch came in the colt’s turf debut after seven starts on dirt, and widespread thinking is that with his pedigree (by Smart Strike out of a Lord At War mare), his brightest days might well be on grass.

Silver Max, one of three 3-year-olds in the field, will be trying to rebound off a disappointing effort in the Aug. 18 Secretariat Stakes, a race that snapped a six-race winning streak.

“We’ll see what he’s made of,” said trainer Dale Romans. “I think he’s a very talented horse. He’s shown it all year, and now he needs to step up and go to the next level.”

Logical stretch-running candidates to perhaps benefit from a too-fast tempo include Data Link (post 7), winner of the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile here in the spring; Doubles Partner (post 2), another Pletcher trainee and a very consistent sort; and Corporate Jungle (post 3), runner-up to Wise Dan in the Aug. 11 Fourstardave at Saratoga.

Completing the field are Skyring, Willcox Inn, Worthadd, Slip and Drive, Ol Army, and Swift Warrior.

The Shadwell, first run in 1986, had its purse increased by $150,000 this year through more sponsorship money from the powerhouse farm owned by Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum. It is now tied with the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, run in spring, as the richest race at Keeneland.

Weather conditions for the second day of the meet are not supposed to be very pleasant, with the forecast calling for a good chance of rain and a high temperature of only 55.

The Shadwell is set for 5:21 p.m. as the ninth of 10 races and the last of five straight stakes. Preceding it are the Grade 3 Woodford (race 5, 3:13), the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America (race 6, 3:45), the Grade 1 First Lady (race 7, 4:17), and the Grade 1 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (race 8, 4:49).