Trainer Charles Lopresti's well-regarded five-year-old gelding Wise Dan will look to keep his impressive run going as he takes on eight very good challengers Sunday at the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.
Owned by Morton Fink, Wise Dan comes off an authoritative win at the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga on August 12.
Jockey John Velazquez appeared to have taken him back in the back-stretch and waited patiently for one final run at the rail behind pacesetter Get Stormy. This happened at the home stretch when Get Stormy left the rail to take on the challenge from Corporate Jungle, and Wise Dan burst through the little opening for a five-length win.
He earned a 109 Beyer figure—his fourth consecutive over 100—for his effort and Velazquez will be back in the saddle on Sunday. He has been aboard Wise Dan for his last four races, three of them wins.
This will also be the second straight start on turf for Wise Dan, who is two-for-three lifetime on turf. He also won the Grade 2 Firecracker in July of 2010 and finished a closed fourth to Gio Ponti at the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile last October.
According to Bloodhorse.com, Wise Dan has been installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite to win the $1 million race and give Lopresti his second consecutive Woodbine Mile win. Lopresti trained last year's winner Turallure.
Wise Dan will break from post three which could present him with another possible rail-skimming race.
The second betting choice (5-2) is one of three European invaders at the race: Juddmonte Farms’ Cityscape. Trained by Roger Charlton, the British-bred son of Selkirk won the $5 million Group 1 Dubai Duty Free at Meydan in March.
The six-year-old horse comes from finishing in second place, 1.5 lengths behind Excelebration at the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois in Deauville, France on August 12. He is a worthy challenger who has earned over $4.2 million in 20 lifetime races, with six wins and eight second-place finishes.
Jockey James Doyle retains the mount and will have post seven at the gate.
The other two European horses in the race will be two Irish-bred horses: Dance and Dance, owned by Mohamed Rashid and Worthadd owned by Diego Romeo.
Trained by Edward Vaughan, Dance and Dance (12-1) finished a troubled sixth-place last year at this race, and then finished fifth at the Shadwell Turf Mile, two lengths behind Wise Dan.
The six-year-old gelding son of British sire Royal Applause comes from finishing third in an allowance race on August 4 at Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Garrett Gomez will be aboard on Sunday and will break from post two.
Worthadd (8-1) is a multiple Group 2 winner trained by Sir Mark Prescott who is no stranger to running against the top horses in Europe. The five-year-old horse has been in races with Frankel, Dream Ahead, Goldikova and Canford Cliffs.
I mentioned running against European top horses, not defeating them.
Will Wise Dan win the Woodbine Mile?
He is consistent, though, and has won of nine of 17 lifetime starts earning more than $950,000 in the process. His last race was a close second-place finish at a Group 2 race in Germany. Two races before that, he finished fourth at a Group 3 race where Dance and Dance finished second.
He will be ridden by locally-based Luis Contreras and will have the outside post—ninth.
Local runners Big Band Sound (6-1) and Riding the River (10-1) have exchanged victories in the last two races here at Woodbine.
Big Band Sound comes from winning the Grade 2 Play The King at seven furlongs on August 26 with Riding the River finishing a closing second. On June 24, Riding the River did catch Big Band Sound to win the Grade 2 King Edward over nine furlongs.
Big Band Sound has been extremely consistent. He has finished worse than second only once in his last seven races with Tyler Pizarro aboard.
Riding the River has come a long way since he won his first two races as a claimer, winning two Grade 2 races this year. He finished fifth at this race last year just 1.5 lengths behind Turallure, posting his best career Beyer figure of 99.
Big Band sound is trained by Daniel Vella, and will be ridden again by Pizarro, breaking from post five. Riding the River is trained by David Cotey, who co-owns the five-year-old gelding with Hugh Galbraith and Linmac Farms, and will be ridden by Patrick Husbands from the inside post one.
Hunters Bay (15-1) won four of his previous five races prior to his very disappointing seventh place finish at the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational at Saratoga on August 4. Those four races were over the Woodbine Polytrack course.
The five-year-old trained by Reade Baker and ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson will be making his first start on grass. He seems to have recovered from whatever happened to him at Saratoga as he has been burning the track with his workouts towards this race.
Hunters Bay is the only other horse on the race to have posted three-digit Beyer Figures; he will have post six. Rounding up the field are Artic Fern (20-1) and Hollinger (20-1), both local runners at the Woodbine race track.
This race is a one-turn race with a long backstretch run that presents a great tactical challenge for the jockeys since none of the horses is a natural pacesetter.
Most likely Hunters Bay and Big Band Sound will be the ones who will take the lead, since they are the ones who have shown the likeliness to run near the pace in the past.
Wise Dan is no slow horse either and could benefit from these two crossing in front of him. John Velazquez should take him to their outside to get a run in the clear and wait again to make one run with him.
He should be making the lead on his own as they round the final turn and make another mad dash to the finish line once they enter the home stretch to win with ease over fast closing Cityscape.
Wise Dan is ranked second on the weekly NTRA poll behind Game On Dude. But another impressive win here could push him to the top of the poll and all that there will be left to be known is which race will he be pointed towards at the Breeders' Cup in November.
Win - Wise Dan
Place - Cityscape
Show - Hunters Bay