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Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan may have won his season debut in solid fashion when repeating in the Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland but didn't scare away rivals as he attempts to take down a second edition of the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic May 3 at Churchill Downs.
Wise Dan will try to join Einstein , who won the 2008 and 2009 renewals, as the only two-time winner of the Woodford, which goes as the race before the Kentucky Derby Brands with an approximate post time of 4:44 p.m. EDT. Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez will have his regular spot in the irons; the duo breaks from the inside post with a highweight assignment of 124 pounds.
The 1 ⅛-mile turf event attracted nine other older horses, including grade I winners Boisterous, Seek Again, and Admiral Kitten, along with Kaigun, a 4-year-old gelding who came within three-quarters of a length of six-time Eclipse Award winner Wise Dan in the Maker's 46 Mile.
Trainer Charlie LoPresti remains confident in Morton Fink's homebred son of Wiseman's Ferry , who on April 29 blew out three furlongs in :35 seconds flat on the Polytrack at Keeneland under regular exercise rider Damien Rock. The Maker's 46 April 11 was a record sixth stakes score at Keeneland for Wise Dan, and his ninth grade I score.
"He worked super, super-one of his best workouts of the year," said the affable horseman. "He was well in hand and full of run, and Damien was talking him out of it all the way."
That work was likely the last on Keeneland's Polytrack for Wise Dan, who has made the bluegrass oval his home base for two championship campaigns. Keeneland will replace the synthetic surface with dirt on the main track this summer, and horsemen must leave the stable area between May 15-19.
"If he goes to Saratoga for his next start, which is likely what I'm going to do, I'll probably back off him and probably wouldn't work him on the Polytrack again," LoPresti said. "I might bring him up to my barn at Churchill in the later part of June and work him a couple times on the grass. I don't think it matters to him; he takes his show on the road and he does well everywhere he goes. I'm not too terribly worried as far as his future; it's just going to be a little different figuring out our strategy later in the year."
LoPresti said thoughts of a run at the June 14 Stephen Foster Handicap on the dirt at Churchill would only enter his head if 7-year-old Wise Dan came "out of this race like an absolute monster, tearing the barn down, not being able to hold him on the ground."
Wise Dan won the first Grade 1 race of his career on the Churchill dirt in the Clark Handicap.
Stepping up to face the champ is a solid group led by Boisterous, making his return to tougher company off a confidence-boosting April 5 allowance score going 1 1/8 miles on the Keeneland lawn. Also a 7-year-old, the Distorted Humor runner is now trained by Todd Pletcher for Gary Barber, who purchased the Phipps homebred for $350,000 out of the Keeneland November sale in 2013.
Boisterous won the 2013 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, then made four attempts without success before finding victory at Keeneland last time out. His last effort in a Grade 1 event resulted in an eighth-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Boisterous departs post 7 under 120 pounds including Javier Castellano.
Kaigun, a son of Northern Afleet who was making his grade I debut in the Maker's 46, returns in this spot for Mark Casse and a partnership group that includes Barber, Quintessential Racing Florida, and Horse'n Around Racing Stable. Last November in his only other stakes start and only Churchill race, he finished third in the Commonwealth Turf Stakes. Alan Garcia rides from the 5 hole; Kaigun carries 118.
Also of interest in this spot is Juddmonte Farms' homebred Seek Again, a 4-year-old Speightstown colt who began his career in Europe. In his U.S. debut he won the 1 ¼-mile Hollywood Derby last December in his most recent start. Now trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Seek Again will break from post position 10 under Joel Rosario in his 2014 debut with a 122-pound impost.
Admiral Kitten won the 2013 Secretariat Stakes for breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker. The 4-year-old son of Kitten's Joy came back for his first victory since then in the Jan. 25 John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes at Sam Houston, and must rebound from a seventh March 29 in the Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Julien Leparoux rides from post 4; Admiral Kitten carries 120. Maker will also send out allowance winner Moro Tap for Skychai Racing and partners.
Calumet Farm's Skyring, winner of the March 29 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Handicap last time out at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, has run against Wise Dan twice before. He was sixth in last year's off-the-turf edition of the Shadwell Turf Mile won by Silver Max (in which Wise Dan was second), and finished fourth for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas in the 2013 Maker's 46 Mile. Joe Rocco Jr. gets the mount from the post 9 as part of a 122-pound weight.
Trainer Dale Romans has two starters, Donnegal Racing's Finnegans Wake and Michael J. Bruder's Guys Reward. Finnegans Wake makes his first start since running sixth on the dirt in the Clark Handicap last November, while Guys Reward, the 2012 Firecracker Handicap winner, looks to recover from a 10th in the Feb. 22 Canadian Turf Stakes after winning the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes Feb. 1 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Dye and Venneri Racing's grade II winner Bright Thought, shipping in from California, completes the field. The Jorge Gutierrez-trained Hat Trick runner comes off a third in the April 3 Thunder Road Stakes at a mile on Santa Anita Park lawn. Bright Thought was 10th in the Breeders' Cup Mile won last year by Wise Dan in his first start off the bench after a March 16 San Luis Rey Stakes victory.