Already in the proverbial clubhouse after winning the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile (Grade 1) by one-and-a-half lengths as the 9-to-5 favorite, Wise Dan had done his part in the race for Horse of the Year honors, in the penultimate heat of the 2012 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
After Game On Dude followed with a flop in the Classic, Wise Dan's course record-breaking performance of 1:31.78 in the Mile gave him his fifth win in six starts this year and vaulted him into the leading candidate's role for racing's top prize off the track.
"He's just a super horse. Every time I work him, every time I do something with him, he amazes me," said trainer Charles Lopresti. "Every time he runs, I know he's going to run good, but I never thought he would run this good. I never expected him to break a track record."
Improving his record to 13 wins in 20 lifetime starts, Wise Dan has shown the versatility to win over turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces. However, he has exploded into a superstar by winning his last four races of 2012 at a mile on turf, culminating with his Breeders' Cup triumph.
"It really hasn't hit me yet, but it's an incredible accomplishment," said Lopresti, who trained Turallure to a runner-up finish in last year's Mile at Churchill Downs. "It's really the horse. He's done things in the mornings that you just don't believe. It's a dream come true. You work all your life to have a horse like this."
Owned and bred by Morton Fink out of a mare he purchased for just $29,000, Wise Dan's earnings are now just shy of $3.5 million. His half brother, Successful Dan, out of the same mare, Lisa Danielle, is also owned and bred by Fink, and has won 7-of-11 career starts for earnings over $650,000.
"It's very hard to put into words. When you're in the business for 40 years you can do everything right and have the best of everything and then you get a bad trip and you lose," said Fink. "With this horse, it's crazy to say, but it's almost impossible to do that to him. As soon as he sees daylight, he's gone, and nobody will beat him. Nobody."
Nobody, except for maybe Frankel, absent from Breeders' Cup festivities after being retired two weeks ago, having never lost through 14 career starts.
"What Frankel has accomplished, nobody can say anything negative about him. It's a miracle what he's done," said Fink. "I'm not even going to think about how we'd do against Frankel. He's the best horse in the world. We're never going to get a chance to run so there's no point in thinking about that."
Excelebration did make the trip from Europe with an impressive resume of his own, which included six wins and four defeats to Frankel since May of last year. Sent off just a tick higher than Wise Dan as the 2-to-1 second choice, the four-year-old Irish-bred son of Exceed and Excel could do no better than fourth just two weeks after a career-best performance, when he won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Group 1) by three lengths at Ascot.
Storming from the back of the pack to run second was 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, sent off as a 10-to-1 long-shot making just his second start of the year and first in eight months. It was the first stakes try on turf for the four-year-old Leroidesanimaux colt, who had previously run first and second in a pair of allowance races on grass.
Front-running Obviously was sent off as the 6-to-1 fourth choice after breaking the course record at Del Mar this summer and flirting with it at Santa Anita in his final Breeders' Cup prep. But after three wire-to-wire victories since stretching out, the four-year-old Irish-bred son of Choisir couldn't fend off the top two finishers and settled for third.
While Fink said there are no long range plans for Wise Dan, the five-year-old son of Wiseman's Ferry is a gelding, so an early retirement to stud is not an option.
"It's only fair to give him a rest," said Fink. "He's done more than any horse can be expected to do. We know in this business, it's one race at a time."
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