09/13/2013 12:34PM

Woodbine Mile: Wise Dan seeks unprecedented repeat win

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Barbara D. Livingston
Wise Dan, seen winning the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap last month, won last year's Woodbine Mile by 3 1/4 lengths.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Wise Dan, the reigning North American Horse of the Year, will attempt to become the first two-time winner of the $1 million Woodbine Mile on Sunday. His imposing presence scared away several potential rivals, as just five others were entered in the 17th running of the Grade 1 stakes, which is a Win and You’re In qualifying race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

The Woodbine Mile heads a solid 11-race card that includes three other stakes: the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf, the Grade 2 Canadian, and the Grade 3 Ontario Derby. The early pick four, starting with the fourth race, has a guaranteed pool of $100,000, and the late pick four, covering the final four races, has a $200,000-guaranteed pool.

Wise Dan is riding an eight-race winning streak, all in Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes going middle distances on grass. His top turf Beyer Speed Figure of 110 was earned in last year’s Woodbine Mile, which he won comfortably after an ideal stalking trip under John Velazquez, who has won the race a record three times.

Owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti have taken some flak this year for not running Wise Dan in major dirt stakes, but the criticism hasn’t made them waver from what they believe is best for the 6-year-old gelding.

“I’m not going to let anybody persuade me to do anything with the horse that Mr. Fink doesn’t want to do, or that I don’t want to do,” said LoPresti, who also won the 2011 Woodbine Mile with Turallure. “He’s very good on synthetic and dirt. He’s won a Grade 1 on dirt. He’s doing so well, the way we’re handling him right now. I think the biggest goal for us this year is to keep him undefeated.”

[WOODBINE MILE: Get PPs, watch Sunday's Woodbine card live]

The Belmont-based Za Approval should be the second choice under Garrett Gomez, a two-time winner of the Woodbine Mile. Za Approval captured the Grade 3 Red Bank in May at Monmouth Park and has been idle since running second behind top California miler Obviously in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 29.

Trainer Christophe Clement scratched Za Approval from two Saratoga stakes this summer due to giving ground.

“We’re obviously looking for firm turf with him, regardless of the competition,” assistant trainer Christophe Lorieul said.

A European shipper has never won the Woodbine Mile, a drought that Trade Storm will try to end Sunday in his first start with Lasix and jockey Gary Stevens. Trade Storm has been a minor player in Group 1 company in England, where he recently finished third in the Group 2 Celebration Mile.

“He’s been very, very consistent,” trainer David Simcock said. “He’s run against some outstanding 3-year-olds. The one thing he really wants is a flat-turning track, which he’ll have at Woodbine. He’s been running on undulating tracks.”

Dimension, based in Kentucky with trainer Conor Murphy, almost upset two-time Canadian sprint champion Essence Hit Man here in the Grade 3 Bold Venture on Polytrack on July 17. Dimension ran the race of his life in the local prep for the Woodbine Mile, the Grade 2 Play the King. He put away two front-end challengers while racing along the inside, then drew clear in the stretch for an easy victory.

Jockey David Moran said Dimension inherited the lead in the Aug. 25 Play the King.

“We went out there thinking Excaper was going to be in front, but he took me there so easy,” Moran said. “At the quarter pole, I shook the line at him, and he took off like a real good horse. He doesn’t have to be in front. He sat behind Essence Hit Man all the way and was closing rapidly on him. Just after the wire, I galloped out by him.”

Excaper went with Dimension early in the seven-furlong Play the King before weakening in the stretch, but managed to hold on for second. His trainer, Ian Black, who sent out Rahy’s Attorney for an upset score in the 2008 Woodbine Mile, said he’s hoping the home field will be an advantage Sunday.

“Some horses handle shipping better than others, but I always think you’re better off just walking them over,” Black said.

Riding the River, Canada’s champion male grass runner in 2012, finished fourth in the 2012 Woodbine Mile before going to the sidelines with bone bruising. He captured the Grade 2 King Edward in his second start back and is coming off a wide, closing third in the Play the King.

Trainer Dave Cotey said he was pleased with Riding the River’s performance in the Play the King, which was run over hard ground that had favored speed in sprints.

“He ran a good race,” Cotey said. “They weren’t coming back at all on that course.”

The Woodbine Mile (5:38 p.m. Eastern) and the Northern Dancer Turf will be broadcast on Sportsnet 360 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. DRF.com will have a live stream of the card, and TVG also will provide coverage.