Wise Dan accomplished what no other modern thoroughbred has done. He was awarded the same three Eclipse Awards two years in a row. Trained by Charles LoPresti, Wise Dan began his racing career in 2010 and went on to win an amazing 19 graded stakes races and earn more than $7 million in purse money. Wise Dan was noted for his ability to run on the turf and is considered by many to be a turf specialist.
Wise Dan Emerges as a Champion
Wise Dan was foaled in 2007 in Kentucky. His owner and breeder are Martin Fink. The horse was a strapping chestnut with a broad blaze across his face. The horse was sent to veteran trainer Charles LoPresti for training and it was decided that he would begin his career in Kentucky.
At the age of two, Wise Dan made his debut at Turfway Park on the track’s synthetic surface called Polytrack. He was only able to manage a fifth place finish in his debut race, but there were signs that he could achieve much greater things. In his second outing, Wise Dan won by fifteen lengths. It was then decided to send the horse to Churchill Downs for stakes competition. The decision was a profitable one.
Wise Dan won an allowance race on Kentucky Derby day in 2010, on the same card that saw Super Saver win the Derby. His accomplishment that day was overshadowed by the bigger racing event, but some handicappers were already beginning to speak about the horse’s potential for greatness. When he returned to Keeneland in the fall after a five-month break, no one was really that surprised to see him capture the Grade III Phoenix Stakes. But what was most impressive about this win is that Wise Dan beat a four-year-old favorite to claim the victory. It is very rare for three-year-old horses to compete against older horses and defeat them in tough events. Wise Dan finished the year with a respectable finish in the Breeder’s Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.
Wise Dan at Age Four
Wise Dan continued his successful run at age four but the first months of the year were not spectacular. The horse could only manage tepid finishes in his first three races, and many were left to wonder if the previous year had been a fluke. What many did not realize is that Wise Dan was stepping up to face much tougher competition than he had faced in his rookie year.
Trainer LoPresti decided to switch Wise Dan to the turf course at Churchill Downs, and the rest as they say is history. The horse won his debut turf event, the Grade II Firecracker Handicap. After this he was given a break before being sent back into action at Presque Isle Downs. It is obvious that LoPresti was making plans for the legendary run that would culminate with Wise Dan in the record books.
Wise Damn began to chalk up victory after victory on the grass, and this led to his receiving Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year, Champion Older Horse, and Champion Male Turf Horse two years in a row. No thoroughbred has ever been able to accomplish that before. It would take a very special horse to replicate the feat in the future.
Wise Dan would ultimately retire in 2015 after suffering a mild tendon injury and a fracture. He earned more than $7 million in his career and is obviously headed for a spot in the thoroughbred racing Hall of Fame. His achievements may have also secured a spot for LoPresti.
LoPresti and Wise Dan
The hallmark of a great trainer is an ability to figure out what their horse is best at. Charles LoPresti made a determination that Wise Dan was more suited to running races on the turf instead of the dirt. The decision to put the horse in turn faces is no doubt what caused him to become a great champion. So, why do some horses prefer to run on grass tracks instead of dirt?
What many people do not know is that grass is a horse’s natural habitat. The dirt of a race track is what is unfamiliar to them. It should therefore come as no surprise when a horse prefers a grass surface, but the fact is that turf horses seem comparatively rare when compared with dirt horses. This, though, is a matter of perception which is created by racing secretaries.
Fr whatever reason, the number of turf races on any given racing day tends to be far less than the number of dirt events. Why is this? Racing secretaries state that there are simply not enough turf horses to fill races, but this is not true. At most tracks, trainers can wait for weeks to see a turf race posted for entry. Only so many horses can be entered and some are excluded. Trainers are always asking for more turf races.
It may be that the dirt tracks are easier to maintain than turf tracks. More races on a surface leads to more maintenance that must be performed. More maintenance means a higher cost of operation for the racetrack.
The kudos that should be given to Charles LoPresti for his handling of Wise Dan are on account of his unwillingness to compromise and keep the horse on the dirt. When LoPresti realized what the horse’s skill was, he had no problem shipping him around the entire country to compete in the biggest races available. The risk was great but the reward was nice. LoPresti could have easily forced Wise Dan to remain in races on the dirt and the results could have been dismal. But he listened to what his horse was telling him and succeeded.
Another amazing aspect of this is that LoPresti was pretty much unknown as a trainer before he welcomed Wise Dan to his stable. He has only achieved mild success. Now, LoPresti will likely make the Hall of Fame all because he had the intuition to make a necessary change in his horse’s running surface.
LoPresti has been allowed to remain in contact with Wise Dan in his retirement, and the two of them will be lifelong friends. Wise Dan was a gelding so there are no stud fees to consider. He will be allowed to live out his life in peace, spending beautiful days in lovely paddocks where he receives visitors and rolls about in the grass that he loved to run on so much. This is how the career of a champion racehorse is supposed to end. He is healthy, sound, and loved by racing fans all over the world.
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