Trainer Charlie LoPresti was breathing a little easier and exercise rider Damien Rock was smiling a little wider the morning of July 11 after two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan sailed through his first breeze since undergoing colic surgery May 16.
First warming up under Rock with a jog around the Lexington track's training surface, Morton Fink's six-time Eclipse Award winner next walked through the tunnel accompanied by Amy LoPresti and Reeve McGaughey. He then strode onto the Keeneland turf course shortly after 7 a.m. EDT.
With a resurfacing of Keeneland's 1 1/16-mile main track underway, Wise Dan has been galloping over the smaller five-furlong oval in his morning activities since coming back to Keeneland June 23 after a respite at LoPresti's Forest Lane Farm.
Once on the turf course, the champ visibly lengthened his stride and carried Rock into the breeze with consummate professionalism, clicking through four furlongs in :50 ⅖ secondswith a gallop-out in 1:02 ⅖. Keeneland clockers followed the 7-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding out in 1:17 as he carried on around the turn.
Wise Dan is a two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile and 10 other grade I stakes events including both of his starts this year. He is pointed toward a third straight run in the Aug. 9 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga Race Course, a race he won in 2012-13.
"This is going to put me so far ahead going into Saratoga," LoPresti said. "If I didn't get to do this here, I would have had to do it next week up there, but I wouldn't have wanted to ship him and breeze him. Now this gives him a chance to just have a couple days to chill before we send him up there."
LoPresti said Wise Dan will leave for Saratoga via horse van the evening of July 13 to arrive the following morning at the upstate New York track. Should the gelding's progress in training be delayed for any reason, LoPresti has also listed the Aug. 30 Bernard Baruch as a potential fallback plan.
The gelding's connections couldn't be happier with the way he has handled his return thus far from the colic scare that could have ended his career.
After Wise Dan's Keeneland breeze, LoPresti seemed confident all was on track.
"From what I saw today, if he doesn't back up from here, the Fourstardave is definitely still in the cards," the trainer said. "You couldn't ask for anything better for his first breeze. He galloped out as good as he finished, that's what we wanted."
Rock echoed that sentiment, saying he almost cried tears of joy while galloping Wise Dan out around the turn.
"I could tell as soon as we got on the turf he was back to his old self," the exercise rider remarked. "He was real happy and drug me the whole way. I was really happy he galloped out that good and wanted to keep going."
Added LoPresti, "That's what I was hoping for, really. I didn't want him to go out in :47 and change and be dog tired. But that couldn't have worked out any better. What I was interested in was how he came home and his gallop out and those were perfect for his first work. Damien said he didn't want to pull up and that's a very good sign."
Before his colic episode, Wise Dan won his second editions of both the Maker's 46 Mile Stakes at Keeneland and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs. Bred in Kentucky by Fink out of the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle, his current record stands at 21 wins and two seconds from 29 starts for earnings of $6,802,920.
"I was nervous about this one, but I'd say it went even better than we expected," LoPresti said. "What I liked about the work today was, it wasn't one of those speedy works, it was slow when he started out, but coming home he really kicked it. He went the last quarter in :24."