05/01/2014 12:09PM

Wise Dan heavy favorite for Woodford Reserve repeat


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For the second straight year, reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan is the star warm-up act for the Kentucky Derby, running in the race immediately preceding the Derby, the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.

Whether of not any of the nine horses entered against Wise Dan can warm him up is another matter. Although there are some quality entrants, led by Grade 1 winners Seek Again and Boisterous, none have anywhere near the class and consistency of Wise Dan, a winner of 12 of 13 starts on turf.

Unlike the April 11 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland, when Wise Dan was at less-than-peak fitness when returning from a more than five-month layoff, there is no such concern heading into the Woodford Reserve, a race he won last year by 4 3/4 lengths, also in his second start of the year.

Trainer Charlie LoPresti said Wise Dan has trained exceptionally since his last start, recording a bullet half-mile breeze in 47.60 seconds April 22 on Keeneland’s Polytrack and a three-furlong blowout there in 35 seconds April 29.

“He was phenomenal, the way he did that,” LoPresti said of the three-furlong work, in which he timed Wise Dan’s last furlong in 11 seconds.

[DRF Live: Get live reports and handicapping insights from Churchill Downs on Saturday]

If there is any potential vulnerability to Wise Dan, it is the target he has become, not surprising as a two-time Horse of the Year. And with Wise Dan being a stalker drawing the inside post, jockeys aboard other horses in the race will likely try to box him in.

“It better be a strong box,” quipped Mike Maker, trainer of Admiral Kitten and Moro Tap.

Top-class horses find holes lesser horses cannot. As Wise Dan showed in the Firecracker last year, he will scrape the hedge on the Churchill turf to secure room if jockey John Velazquez asks him to.

Making his first start for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in the Woodford Reserve is Seek Again, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in his last outing, Dec. 1. John Gosden previously trained the colt, who raced in Britain before being brought to America for the Hollywood Derby.

Mott expects him to be fit despite the long time since his last start, noting a lengthy series of works at Payson Park before a couple of breezes at Churchill, including one on turf.

“Somebody’s got to run against Wise Dan,” Mott said. “We figured we’d give it a try.”

Joel Rosario rides Seek Again, who starts from the outside in the field of 10.

Boisterous is another contender, having won two stakes last year, including the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes, plus a high-level allowance race by a neck April 5 at Keeneland. The latter victory came going the Woodford Reserve’s distance of 1 1/8 miles and despite a tepid pace that forced Boisterous to be moved wide early on the second turn.

Bright Thought and Skyring appear the only two speed horses, and if one is rated, a slow pace may develop.