Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Critiquing Wise Dan

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 13, 2013

Wise Dan There were plenty of detractors eager to criticize owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti decision to have Wise Dan defend his title in the Fourstardave Handicap last week, mainly because it was a race run at Wise Dan’s preferred distance of 1 mile on the turf and it would be the second consecutive Grade 2 race for the defending Horse of the Year. They say a good horse does his own talking on the track and that’s exactly what Wise Dan did, winning his 8th consecutive graded stakes race and 2nd consecutive Fourstardave Handicap (Gr.2) while missing the course record at Saratoga by just 3/5 of a second. Still, the critics remain and it seems that his win has created even more hoopla over his current campaign course than before.

From what I can gather it seems the storm began brewing almost immediately after Fink announced that they would not be pointing the 3-time champion towards the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr.1), but will instead attempt to defend his Breeders’ Cup Mile (Gr.1) win from last year. “I don’t care what anybody says”, Fink said, further stating that he doesn’t care “at all” about winning Horse of the Year again. It seems that Fink is bound and determined to keep his striking chestnut gelding on the turf and at his preferred distance of one mile. I’ve heard my share of criticism from fans about this decision and the decision to run in the Fourstardave Handicap, but I found it very ironic when I read an article this morning by Sam Walker of the Racing Post, brought to my attention by a Facebook status from The Paulick Report.

In his article Walker brings up some relevant points about fans wanting to see Wise Dan run outside of his comfort zone by trying some of the nation’s premier dirt races, but I think he goes a little too far in his criticism of American Turf racing, calling it “second tier” and claiming that “it doesn’t take a great horse to excel in that division”. He goes on to state that “the situation is nothing like being the best miler in Europe or the best sprinter in Australia”, even insinuating that American turf runners carry no global significance. I agree with Walker that American turf racing does not carry the same status or hold the same stature as that of European or Australian racing in general, but when he says that being “the best turf horse in American is like being the best harness, quarter horse or show pony” he has gone too far. I’m sure he has plenty of pride in the fine racing of his beloved Europe, but to claim our turf racing cannot stand toe-to-toe with some of the world’s greatest turf races is absurd. The Arlington Million, Breeders’ Cup Turf, Mile and many others proves that fact. I find his article insulting and somewhat naïve. The article is mainly written as a piece to state that Wise Dan is good enough to run well and defend his Horse of the Year title on dirt, but it was tough seeing past the insults for me to enjoy the rest.

Yes, Wise Dan hasn’t faced the toughest competition this year, and his connections are steadfast in their opinion that their champion should remain on the turf and preferably race at the one mile distance, but I still think there is an element of duplicity to Mr. Walker’s words, after all the great Frankel ran in 7 straight mile races without so much as a disparaging remark from Walker. I’m not making a comparison between Wise Dan and Frankel, just stating the obvious: both horses love the 1 mile distance on the turf and both were allowed to remain in their comfort zone during championship seasons. Frankel raced those 7 time over the course of just over 14 months, Wise Dan in 12 months. Frankel certainly faced stiffer competition and remained in Grade 1 company, but I think it’s important to note that his greatness was not diminished by racing in those 7 races, it was enhanced. It would be great to see Wise Dan challenged with an outside-the-box dirt race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but if Fink and LoPresti keep him on the grass at a mile I think it’s best to just try and enjoy his campaign while he’s still with us.

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13 Responses to “Critiquing Wise Dan”

  1. Arthur Mason said

    Nice of you to point out that this guy (Sam Walker) actually had some relevant points about fans wanting to see Wise Dan racing outside the box before calling him out on his pompous remarks about our turf racing here in the states…way to be objective and not just point out the negative, I appreciate that, nice writing.

    • Thanks Arthur, hat’s nice to hear and I do think the way he wrote parts of the article it sounds like he’s actually a fan of watching Wise Dan and was trying to champion the fans desire to see their champ pushing his limits. Great seeing you again.

  2. Jason B. said

    Wow, thanks for the link to the original article, it’s a little hard to believe some of the things he said.

    P.S. I really loved seeing Wise Dan win the Fourstardave Handicap again.

  3. Jane J. said

    I’m really disappointed that Mr. Fink isn’t trying to win the Classic with Wise Dan, but I am glad he will still be going to the Breeders’ Cup to defend his Mile win from last year.
    The Racing Post article was really strange to me. In some ways he brings up legitimate points and I’m inclined to think that he might not have meant it to sound so condescending to American Turf racing, but a lot of what he says does seem pretty harsh.

    • I know how you feel Jane, I’d love to see him take on the Classic as well, but at least he’s a gelding and hasn’t been plagued by injuries thus far, so maybe we’ll get our chance to see him in the Classic next year.

  4. Nate Smith said

    Wow, that is a crazy article from the Racing Post. Thank you for sharing the link to the original. I can’t believe some of the things he said about American turf racing…they’re ridiculous. Wise Dan’s career is second to very few and to call it “second tier” is just plain ignorant.

  5. Carter Bell said

    I don’t usually write comments after reading blog posts, but I had to say a little something after reading this. I think European turf racing is ahead of American racing in general (that is after all basically their only surface) but I definitely think we have races with the quality to match their best like you said and we’ve had some great turf champions that are top tier. Nice post.

  6. Charles Grennell said

    Wise Dan is a decent horse, but he’s not up to par with our European horses, they would leave him in the dust. I think Sam Walker was right on when he called American turf racing second tier, there’s no proof otherwise.

    • Hi Charles, I’d have to disagree with emphatically. In the Breeders’ Cup Mile last year Wise Dan set a new track record and defeated Moonlight Cloud and Excelebration, both from Europe and both multiple Group 1 winners, so you might want to research a little more before stating there is no proof otherwise.

  7. Matt Scott said

    Brian, I always enjoy your writing, and I really enjoyed this article. In my opinion, Wise Dan is the best turf miler in the world with only a few active runners I can think of that would give him a run for his money on even terms. Those are Obviously, Moonlight Cloud, Ambitious Dragon, and on his best day Toronado. its not difficult to recall that not too long ago Sir Henry Cecil was in a similarly critiqued position with Frankel to go longer than a mile. The biggest difference is that Frankel’s career was capped due to stud duty, whereas Wise Dan’s will not be. I do believe that Wise Dan will try longer races in the future, and fortunately for fans, has many years to do so. But until then, critics will have to express a trait that apparently they lack…patience. As for those afore mentioned horses, I hear that Southern California is beautiful around early November (If the critics abroad are going to be the ones to put him down as inferior, then there is no reason for him to globe trot to seek out the best they have to offer).

    • Hi Matt, thank you very much. I think you hit it on the nail! All four of those runners on their best day would give Wise Dan a run for his money. In my opinion he’s one of the best turf horses American has produced in the last decade at least so to consider him as second tier is out of the question. I certainly hope he tries some longer distances and it would be nice to see him try the dirt again in the furture, even Frankel stretched out to 1 1/4 miles at the end of his career.

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