05/04/2014 12:32PM

Wise Dan's connections will wait to decide on Woodford followup

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Barbara D. Livingston
The two-time defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard Saturday at Churchill Downs, and his connections will wait to decide on his followup race.

Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan emerged from a hard-fought Woodford Reserve victory at Churchill Downs in good shape, trainer Charlie LoPresti said Sunday morning, the day after the race.

LoPresti said he and owner Mort Fink will take a wait-and-see approach in deciding in which race to run Wise Dan next. His inclination is to wait until Saratoga before returning him to the races, with the Aug. 9 Fourstardave Handicap, a Grade 2 race at a mile on turf, being the most likely target.

The Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on dirt June 14 at Churchill will also be considered.

“We’ll at least look at it,” he said.

Wise Dan, a 7-year-old Wiseman’s Ferry gelding, hasn’t raced on dirt in nearly two years since he ran second, beaten a head by Ron The Greek, in the 2012 Stephen Foster. Since that time, he has been entered strictly in turf races, though one race, the Shadwell Turf Mile on Oct. 5 of last year, was moved to Keeneland’s Polytrack surface after a downpour that afternoon. He ran second in that race.

Some racing observers have expressed a desire to see the connections of Wise Dan branch him out into different races this year, testing him outside of the mile to 1 1 /8-mile turf races in which he has proven virtually unbeatable. He is 13 for 14 in such races over his career, with his only loss coming when fourth in the 2011 Shadwell.

He did not appear as invincible Saturday in the Woodford, winning by a head – his smallest margin of victory in any of his 13 turf victories. And though his time for 1 1/8 miles on firm turf was 1:47.73, he earned just a 94 Beyer Speed Figure, marking the first time he had not run at least a 100 Beyer since he posted a 97 Beyer in winning the Fayette on Keeneland’s Polytrack in the fall of 2011.

LoPresti feels the close call in Saturday’s Woodford was the result of the quality of Seek Again, as well as the trip Wise Dan had. Early in the race, jockey John Velazquez took Wise Dan off the leading duo, and Wise Dan resented the restraint, throwing his head up. He raced three wide thereafter, while Seek Again saved ground on the second turn, rallying up the hedge.

Wise Dan currently trains at Keeneland, but that could change in the coming weeks. With Keeneland replacing its Polytrack main track with dirt, Wise Dan and others based there will have to train over the small Polytrack training track beginning in the middle to late part of this month when main track construction begins.

Most horsemen there find the training track adequate for galloping but inadequate for breezing due to its tight turns and configuration. So LoPresti and some other trainers that have long stabled there will have stalls at Churchill Downs. LoPresti plans to shuttle horses in and out of Churchill depending on their breeze and race schedules.

That could result in Wise Dan training at Churchill later this spring, particularly if the Foster becomes more of a possibility.

As for Seek Again, the Woodford runner-up, he seems likely to go in another direction than Wise Dan.

“We've got to decide if we're going to give him a try in the Manhattan,” his trainer, Bill Mott, said in reference to the Grade 1, $1 million race on turf on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 7.

The Manhattan Handicap is at 1 1/4 miles, the distance over which Seek Again won the Hollywood Derby last year.

Boisterous, the third-place finisher in the Woodford Reserve, would seem another candidate for the Manhattan, having already won a Grade 1 on the Belmont turf last July in the Man o’ War Stakes.