Critiquing Wise Dan
Posted by Brian Appleton on August 13, 2013
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.