05/03/2014 4:57PM

Woodford Reserve: Wise Dan fights early and late

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Tom Keyser
Wise Dan (outside) surges late to edge Seek Again in the Woodford Reserve.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Wise Dan’s class and consistency led him to win 12 of his first 13 starts on turf, and notch two consecutive Horse of the Year titles in the process.

In winning Saturday’s Grade 1, $559,100 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs, he relied on another trait: his heart. Tested by Hollywood Derby winner Seek Again in midstretch, he found enough late to prevail by a head.

“That was the horse I worried about,” said winning trainer Charlie LoPresti. “That was a thriller.”

In contrast to some of Wise Dan’s earlier victories, when he blew the race open with powerful moves coming into the stretch, he was less authoritative in victory.

He gave those that backed him to 1-2 favoritism some worried moments passing the stands for the first time, when he resented restraint from jockey John Velazquez, who sought to rate him off pacesetters Bright Thought and Skyring.

“I had to really fight him,” Velazquez said. “I didn’t want to do that because he threw his head up, but I had no choice.”

Thereafter his trip was smooth. With Velazquez sitting chilly, Wise Dan made a steady three-wide bid on the second turn, and he took the lead shortly after entering the stretch.

But the field was closing in, with the ground-saving Seek Again rallying boldest down along the hedge. And from the eighth pole to the wire, the two battled, with Wise Dan narrowly fending off the runner-up.

“He was definitely tired,” said Velazquez.

Joel Rosario, aboard Seek Again, praised the winner.

“I thought we had him beat,” he said, before adding later, “but he’s Wise Dan, you know?”

Wise Dan, a 7-year-old gelded son of Wiseman’s Ferry owned and bred by Mort Fink, won for the 21st time in 29 starts in the Woodford Reserve, and improved his turf record to 13 victories from 14 starts. He notched his second consecutive victory in the Woodford Reserve following a 4 3/4-length triumph last year.

He raced 1 1/8 miles on firm ground in 1:47.73, paying $3.

 Boisterous, off a bit slowly, rallied from midpack to grab third, a length and a quarter behind the runner-up, edging Kaigun by a nose for the show.

Admiral Kitten, Guys Reward, Moro Tap, Finnegans Wake, Bright Thought, and Skyring completed the order of finish.