Wise Dan could be wise choice
ARCADIA, Calif. — Wise Dan emerged as a favorite for Horse of the Year after his record-setting win in the Breeders' Cup Mile, one of 11 upsets in 15 races at the world championships.
A couple of other contenders stumbled. Game On Dude failed to clinch the year-end honor when he finished seventh in the Classic as the 13-10 favorite, and turf star Point of Entry's late charge fell short of 17-1 Little Mike in the Turf.
Arguments will be made for Classic winner Fort Larned, Ladies' Classic champion Royal Delta, and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, but Wise Dan made a case for taking the Eclipse Award by beating a strong field that included 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and European star Excelebration.
Wise Dan made Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a believer even before the 5-year-old gelding won the Mile in a track-record 1:31.78.
“What a horse he is. He's a star,” Baffert said Sunday. “If I had a vote, I'd vote for him for Horse of the Year.”
Wise Dan is 5 for 6 this year, including four consecutive victories on the turf. In his career, the Kentucky-based gelding has 13 wins in 19 starts running on the turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces while earning $4,279,638.
Because he's a gelding, Wise Dan won't be rushed off to the breeding shed. Trainer Charlie Lopresti plans to give him a couple months off at the farm before pointing Wise Dan toward the major races next summer and fall.
Wise Dan's winning time in the Mile on Saturday at Santa Anita was .11 seconds better than the old mark of 1:31.89 set by Atticus in 1997.
“He's accomplished an awful lot on every surface you put him on,” Fink said. “People warned us of the dangers to come here because this track is different. No change of track has ever stopped him, so we were not concerned about that.”
Game On Dude came into the 1¼-mile Classic with a 5-0 record on his home track. But he never got to race on the lead, his preferred running style, under jockey Rafael Bejarano.
“He's a one-dimensional horse, and he's got to be near the front,” Baffert said. “When that horse can't be near the front, that's it for him.”
Fort Larned could get Horse of the Year consideration simply by virtue of his status as the Classic winner.
There's precedent for a female to win the big honor, with Havre de Grace, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta winning in recent years. Filly Royal Delta took her second consecutive Ladies' Classic.
Royal Delta is expected to compete as a 5-year-old next year, with trainer Bill Mott penciling in repeat trips to the $10 million Dubai World Classic and the Breeders' Cup, only having her run against males in the Classic in 2013.
I'll Have Another got hurt the day before the Belmont Stakes in June, dashing his bid to become horse racing's first Triple Crown winner in 34 years. He was quickly retired, which could hurt his chances with voters who may forget his success in the first half.