11/03/2013 8:34PM

Wise Dan emerges from Breeders' Cup as Horse of the Year front-runner

Barbara D. Livingston
Wise Dan's body of work this season, capped by his victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile, will make it difficult to deny him a second Horse of the Year title.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Game On Dude was the pro-tem leader for Horse of the Year coming into the Breeders’ Cup last weekend at Santa Anita, with Princess of Sylmar considered one of the viable candidates should he fail in the Classic.

Both, though, were soundly defeated, Game On Dude faded to ninth in the Classic on Saturday, with Princess of Sylmar last of six in the Distaff on Friday, leaving ol’ reliable Wise Dan as the front-runner to repeat as Horse of the Year following his victory on Saturday in the Mile.

The Breeders’ Cup helped decide a number of Eclipse Awards, but many more remained unclear following the 14-race extravaganza, most notably 2-year-old male and 2-year-old filly.

Wise Dan overcame a stumble at the start and a wide trip to rally and win the Mile, earning his sixth win in seven starts this year, and his fourth Grade 1 victory. His lone loss came when the Shadwell Turf Mile was moved to Polytrack because of rain. He finished second.

The victory in the Mile completed a campaign that some perceived as being a repeat of what Wise Dan had done in 2012. It was much more.

After winning the Maker’s 46 Mile in April, Wise Dan in May stretched out to 1 1/8 miles to win the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs over a yielding turf course that forced the scratch of Point of Entry.

Owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti also kept Wise Dan in the Firecracker at Churchill Downs in June, despite a deluge that left the course bottomless, and over which Wise Dan had to carry 128 pounds.

Wise Dan lugged 129 pounds in the Fourstardave at Saratoga in August, running down the razor-sharp King Kreesa while, as in the Firecracker, having to concede significant amounts of weight to his rivals.

Wise Dan then traveled to Toronto in September to easily win the Woodbine Mile. Then came the setback at Keeneland in October, followed by a repeat visit to Santa Anita for an encore performance in the Mile.

All told, Wise Dan ran at five different tracks, four in this country, one in Canada. He won at least one race at all those tracks.

That resume led LoPresti on Sunday to say he would “be very surprised” if Wise Dan did not repeat as Horse of the Year.

“We never backed down,” LoPresti said.

Wise Dan also is the most likely winner as champion male turf horse, a title he won last year, too.

Wise Dan last year also was the winner as champion older horse, but Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man are viable candidates this year with their traditional dirt campaigns. Though Game On Dude flopped on Saturday, he did win his five other starts, including a sweep of premier races for older horses at the three Southern California tracks, the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Mucho Macho Man lost his first three starts of the year, but finished with a flourish, taking the Awesome Again and the Classic.


When Princess of Sylmar was sent to the Breeders’ Cup, the potential reward was Horse of the Year. The risk, though, was the 3-year-old filly title, and it will be interesting to see how Eclipse Award voters, who get their ballots in December, will lean when comparing Princess of Sylmar with the brilliant winner of the Distaff, Beholder.

Both Beholder and Princess of Sylmar won four Grade 1 races this year. They split their two meetings, Princess of Sylmar prevailing in the Kentucky Oaks, in which Beholder was a close second, and then Beholder proving vastly superior in the Distaff. Beholder also won twice against older runners, including soundly defeating the same Royal Delta whom Princess of Sylmar outran in the Beldame.

Although Royal Delta lost the Distaff, she remains the most likely winner as champion older female, a title she won last year.

Groupie Doll also figures to retain her title as champion female sprinter following her popular repeat victory in the Filly and Mare Sprint, though a case could certainly be made for Mizdirection, who won the Turf Sprint for the second straight year and won 4 of 5 starts this year.

Mizdirection also would be an intriguing candidate for the female turf title, though Dank’s parlay of the Beverly D. and Filly and Mare Turf likely will carry that category.

If the late run of Will Take Charge had carried him past Mucho Macho Man at the end of the Classic, he would be a clear-cut favorite for champion 3-year-old male. He still could be the front-runner, but there are several other candidates, most notably the winners of the Triple Crown races, Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow, and Belmont winner Palace Malice. Both Will Take Charge and Palace Malice had year-long campaigns that ran from January through November, which should count for something.

Several other categories are even less in focus. The male sprint title often is decided in the Sprint, and the electrifying victory of Secret Circle over many of the division’s most-accomplished candidates could carry him all the way to the Eclipse Award, even with an abbreviated, two-race campaign. There should be significant sentiment for Points Offthebench, who won 4 of 5 starts this year, two in Grade 1 races, and likely would have been the favorite in the Sprint had he not suffered a fatal injury during what was to be his final work for the race.

The 2-year-old titles both could yet be decided. New Year’s Day won the Juvenile to leap into contention for the male 2-year-old championship, with Grade 1 winners Havana and Strong Mandate still viable options after brave performances from poor posts in the Juvenile. The uncertainty in this division means late-season races like the Remsen and CashCall Futurity could help sway voters.

Similarly, the Demoiselle and Hollywood Starlet may be needed to sort out the 2-year-old fillies, who had an unsatisfying BC race on Saturday with She’s a Tiger being disqualified in favor of Ria Antonia in a race in which Grade 1 winner Secret Compass perished.

Gary Stevens thrust himself squarely into the debate for champion jockey by taking the Distaff and the Classic, victories that came in the midst of a comeback year that also saw him win the Preakness. Mike Smith has had more Grade 1 success this year than Stevens, including the Belmont, and did win the Turf Sprint, Juvenile Turf, and Marathon last weekend to lead all riders at the Breeders’ Cup. The average earnings per start of Smith and Stevens dwarfs those higher up the yearly money-won tables, such as Javier Castellano and Joel Rosario.

Todd Pletcher is the runaway leader among trainers for purse earnings and graded stakes this year, but he was shut out at the Breeders’ Cup, most notably with Princess of Sylmar. Pletcher, though, has had a terrific year overall, highlighted by the Belmont with Palace Malice. But there should be strong support for LoPresti, who is the only trainer in the top 25 in purse earnings who averages more per start than Pletcher, and who has done a masterful job not only with Wise Dan, but with his fragile half-brother, Successful Dan.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey have dominated race meetings from Keeneland to Churchill Downs to Saratoga this year, and are considered the front-runners for both champion owner and, because of their superstar stallion Kitten’s Joy, champion breeder. But there is bound to be at least some sentiment for Fink, who bred and owns Wise Dan, who has again emerged, following Breeders’ Cup weekend, as the most likely winner as Horse of the Year.



steve milgats More than 1 year ago
You have to at least mention Goldencents as 3 year old or sprint especially if he wins the Cigar on November 30th.
John Moore More than 1 year ago
Two performances stand out this year besides his Breeders cup win. The Woodbine Mile where he was 1/5 off setting a world record. The other was the Firecracker where that turf @ Churchill was boggy, pouring down rain and Johnny V made a rail skimming ride on him, demonstrated his versatility to run on any type of turf condition. Wise Dan - 2013 Horse of the Year IMHO.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
It is a very difficult call for 3 year old filly. We have to be careful putting so much emphasis on one race over one track (its YEARLY CHAMPIONSHIP) don't discredit what was done 11 months before. Princess of Sylmar deserves it IMO
telfe23 More than 1 year ago
what you people don't realize, is that Beholder ran the better race in the Oaks. So there should be no discussion
Michael Sperber More than 1 year ago
really telfe23 check the replay princess got knocked around so bad at the start from both sides and still setteled and came on to win. while beholder acted up before the race as she has been known to do. far less troubled trip.
Perl More than 1 year ago
I would reluctantly give it to the Princess. Beholder is an incredible filly but Princess' wins were more diverse. Plus she did win at 10f. It's a close call.
Gary Smith More than 1 year ago
big fan of both Princess of Sylmar and Beholder.great sportsmanship by Princess ,s owner thats what the game is all about.a Zenyatta -Rachael Alexandra rivalry ,east vs west that never happened.but sometimes first thoughts are the right ones,She should never have shipped all the way to California to take on Beholder 500 yards from Beholders stall.Mistake.Mizdirection went to New york ,didn,t run a step.Mistake.Horses for courses.Beholder 3yearold filly of the yearbeat the princess by some 20 lengths.
flash gordon More than 1 year ago
They need to put the breeders cup in kentucky the track bias is insane.no trainer out east is going to bring their horse to santa anita again'
Michael Sperber More than 1 year ago
thats what pletcher said.
flash gordon More than 1 year ago
Only bring speed horses out west.you cant win with closers
B More than 1 year ago
I'm very much for bringing the BC back east, but aren't the 1st, 2nd & 4th place finishers in the Classic this year all basically east coast based?
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Yes but for the most part I don't think east coast horsemen like having to ship across country into other horses stables FAIR
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
and weren't the second and third place finishers closers?
Perl More than 1 year ago
The track was a joke on Friday but it seemed fair on Saturday.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
They shouldn't why run somewhere that gives a certain horse from a logistics standpoint the advantage
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
so Belmont for instance wouldn't give certain horses and advantage? because clearly that track doesn't have horses that love it and hate... same with Saratoga.... every track is unique I hate all this whining, but agree a rotation would be nice. However for anyone one particular year that crop will be subject to uniqueness of the host track
michael More than 1 year ago
Give it to Beholder she was most impressive all year.
Christopher Clark More than 1 year ago
she ran in one quality spot the Kentucky oaks, you have to kidding me with that...that's actually a good joke
Michael Sperber More than 1 year ago
yea and that day she got beat fair and square by the Princess of Sylmar
not impressed More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately voters will likely lean towards Beholder for the title. Remember the same position with Sky Beauty in 1993? She came in having won the Filly TC but lost out on CH 3yof because Hollywood Wildcat (with only 1 GI win--Distaff) won the Distaff and beat her. Same scenario here. Voters tend to give Bc races more consideration in some areas.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
so the distaff was not a quality race?....you just lost all credibility when the one sentence you provided is flawed
james hallal More than 1 year ago
excellent analysis of wise dan's brilliant year. overcame high weight and adverse course conditions. would have been undefeated again if those fools at keenland had not taken the shadwell off the turf. great job by a classy trainer.
Perl More than 1 year ago
The "fools" at Keenland were looking out for the horses' well being.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Plus, Lopresti said he would've scratched if it did stay on Turf.
Jd Staton More than 1 year ago
i think wise dan will get HOY just based on theres really no other stand outs. i think wise dan has less competition this year then last year as far as HOY honors. same with royal delta who else would you vote for in her division. there both going repeat by default pretty much
Michael Sperber More than 1 year ago
really ? you think its that easy to dismiss the winner of 4 grade 1 stakes one against your older mare champion at 3 differant race tracks. when the beholder has never won a race at any track besides santa anita other than her maiden score at hollywood. when the 2 horses were fresh and fit on neutral ground churchill downs the Princess of Sylmar was the winner going right past beholder as would do to almost every rival she faced all year. many of which would come back and race well again.look how long it took close hatches to come back after her race vs the princess and she seemed to takethe wind out of delta as well. she bumped in the gate just before it opened and stumbled leaving. javier then rushed her a bit over track she didn't seem to like.at all in the breeders. ne real excuse she recovered from a much ruffer start in the kentucky oaks. friday just wasn't her day. but 2013 was most definitely the Princess of Sylmars her year.
Curtis Wright More than 1 year ago
Beholder also won this year at Del Mar.
Christopher Clark More than 1 year ago
she ran to way inferior competition she horses of the year it a joke to consider her at all
Michael Sperber More than 1 year ago
who are you referring to? i'm not making a case for the Princess for HOY just 3 year old champion
Michael Sperber More than 1 year ago
sorry you are correct curtis she broke her maiden at delmar not hollywood she lost a stake at delmar at 2 and lost a 50k maiden at her only start there as well. come on she is a one track wonder.were speed bias and track conditions rule.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lol speed bias huh... guess she should have gone to the front? and princess probably shouldn't have broken poorly? Just cause you like your new York races more doesn't mean they are better races. Obviously the Princess was great, but she lost the biggest race. If you watched the interview with Lukas he said that the breeders cup was for races like these...determining championships
Bob More than 1 year ago
There shouldn't even be a debate about who the HOTY is going to be. Wise Dan is the best horse to race in N. America in many a moon and his BC race on Saturday only reinforces that view. He was among very few short-priced BC favorites to deliver the goods and if he hadn't been a victim of circumstance in the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland, that was scratched off the turf, he would be undefeated in his last 10 starts while facing the best that American racing had to offer!
Perl More than 1 year ago
I also believe he is the best in N.America, but you are wrong that he faced the best American racing had to offer. He didn't run in the Classic. That field was much stronger than the field he beat in the mile.
Kim Miner More than 1 year ago
Are you kidding me???? Three year old champion has to be WTC! I have watched him since his wins in Arkansas and though supported Orb and Palace Malice through the year this big boy got his act together and did what the other three year olds failed to do, including Verranzo, and that is win!!!! And I don't care what the photo showed, that Classic was as close to a dead heat as I have ever seen! I had the exacta and both boys accross the board so I was thrilled with the way the race came in. Please voters, make the logical choice!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the only meaningful race he WON all year long was the Travers. I don't think championships are awarded for improving the most they are about results.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
They are what horses have done for racing ..................
not impressed More than 1 year ago
PM's only meaningful race was the Belmont and he got BEAT by WTC 3 out of 4 meetings.
not impressed More than 1 year ago
Whoops meant 3 out of 5
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
WTC ? What has he done for racing ? Arkansas Derby , Win. Triple Crown ? Ran in all 3 despite winning. Travers ?, win . Penn Derby,? win. BC Classic ? , beaten a hair 3YO, Champion is WTC. ............
not impressed More than 1 year ago
Doesn't matter, he's the only 3yo left standing at the end of the year, PM only has ONE GI race as well. Orb has three, but he's going to have to win the Cigar Mile to pull it off. WTC was getting good late and sometimes that's all the voters remember.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
he did not win the Arkansas Derby he won the rebel. are you really saying running in all three TC and doing nothing is an accomplishment? Penn Derby ya he won but all of the horses considered at the top of the division at that time were not running in the 3yo restricted races they were taking on older horses. BEATEN by a hair. He might be top of his game right now but his whole year does not compare to ORB who won The Kentucky Derby. If you want to count second and third results lets talk Orb.more wins in higher graded races and finished where in the triple crown races? It's not about improving its about results.