The two-time defending Horse of the Year hasn't raced since early May, and two weeks later he underwent colic surgery. Yet because he's 2-for-2 this year, Wise Dan still sits atop the weekly media poll of the country's top 10 horses. The 7-year-old gelding is entered in tomorrow's Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga, and how he performs could overshadow the Grade I Woodward later on the card.
That's if he runs.
Trainer Charles LoPresti has been weighing his options and hedging, and having to spot from 8 to 13 pounds to nine opponents is an issue. Wise Dan was assigned a hefty 127 in the 11/16-mile grass race, but he won twice last year lugging 128 and 129. "He's ready to run," LoPresti said, "and our plan is to run."
Wise Dan probably would have to go undefeated for the rest of the year to match Forego's three consecutive Horse of the Year titles (1974-76). "We try not to think about that," LoPresti said, "because then sometimes you might try to do the impossible."
He's hopeful that Wise Dan can recapture the form that's produced 21 wins in 29 career starts, including victories in the last two Breeders' Cup Miles. That's asking a lot.
"He's 100 percent, I'm pretty certain about that," LoPresti said, "but he hasn't run since May. So we're very much leaning toward running him here, although coming off any kind of surgery, you have to be concerned. I don't think it's affected him, but you never really know until you run."
Translation: Don't be shocked if Wise Dan stays in the barn Saturday.
The $600,000, Grade I Woodward brings back the Whitney's first two finishers, wire-to-wire winner Moreno and Itsmyluckyday. The 61st edition of the 11/8-mile stakes lost its marquee player when Todd Pletcher didn't enter Palace Malice, a never-competitive sixth as the Whitney favorite. Pletcher wasn't impressed with his last workout, so he's pointing him for the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 27 at Belmont Park.
As in the Whitney, Moreno is the Woodward's main speed. To counteract that major edge, Eddie Plesa Jr. is putting blinkers on Itsmyluckyday. "We're just hoping for more of an honest pace," Plesa said. "I thought the pace in the Whitney certainly helped Moreno, and I thought we were compromised by it. Not to take anything away from him, because he did what he needed to do to win the race."
Eric Guillot, Moreno's uncensored trainer, sees Plesa's blinkers move as a salute to his gelding. "You're trying to stay closer to me?" Guillot said. "You want to be a rabbit or the sacrificial lamb? If you're in front of me, you've run too fast."