SARATOGA SPRINGS - Even when you're a world-beater, the critics never go away.
Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year, extended his winning streak to eight Saturday in Saratoga's Grade II Fourstardave Handicap, cruising with John Velazquez to a 1 1/4-length win over front-running King Kreesa. The 2-5 favorite carried 129 pounds, spotting five outclassed rivals 11 to 14 pounds.
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Well yeah, but . . . The problem, for some picky people, is that Wise Dan's entire streak has been accomplished on grass, America's secondary racing surface, not dirt.
Morton Fink, his 83-year-old owner, hears the noise but won't let it change his mind. His 6-year-old gelding is 9-for-10 lifetime on turf, including 8-for-9 at a mile, the Fourstardave's distance. The $300,000 winner's share of the $500,000 purse raised his earnings on turf above $3.5 million. Are Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti doing something wrong?
"He's won a Grade I on dirt, so I don't know how people can say he's just a mile grass horse," Fink said. "I don't plan to change the pattern. He's staying on the grass. We'll try to win the Breeders' Cup Mile again."
Wise Dan performed the way he usually does, stalking the pace on the inside until making his move on the turn. Velazquez asked him to go approaching the stretch, and there was little doubt that he would pass King Kreesa. That happened near the sixteenth pole, and a confident Velazquez hand-rode to the wire.
"To prove that he's a great horse, he had to carry that weight," Velazquez said. "It was a perfect trip -- broke well, follow the pace. After that, it was easy. He proved he was a great horse today."
Wise Dan is so efficient, it can be boring, but local resident Adam McNeill never relaxed until the long-striding son of Wiseman's Ferry drew clear late. McNeill won a drawing that let him bet $15,000 put up by Saratoga's First Lady, Marylou Whitney, and her husband, John Hendrickson. McNeill netted the easiest $21,000 he'll ever make, though not tax-free. It will be put to good use, and quickly. His wife, Jennifer Runkel, is eight months' pregnant with the couple's first child.
Wise Dan paid $2.80 after being timed in a swift 1:34 on a good course. He improved to 17-for-24, with earnings of $4.464 million. It was his second consecutive win in the Fourstardave.
Fink was asked if he thought his horse of a lifetime was the best in the world.
"In this country, for sure," he said. "I don't think he can surprise me anymore. The last time, they boxed him in and he almost went over the hedge at Churchill, and he still won.
"When you have a horse like this, anything is possible."