Trainer Charlie LoPresti was still mulling over comeback options for Wise Dan but seemed more inclined toward deciding after sending the two-time Horse of the Year through his third dirt work at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 16.
Under regular exercise rider Damien Rock, Morton Fink's homebred gelding clicked through five furlongs in 1:01.64 on the main track at the upstate New York oval. Following the move -- Wise Dan's sixth since returning to training from May 16 colic surgery -- LoPresti said the Sept. 14 Ricoh Woodbine Mile is emerging as the most likely comeback race for the six-time Eclipse Award winner.
"He did really good; we were really pleased with him and I think everybody was happy with what they saw," LoPresti said. "I think he's turned the corner in the last three weeks, he just needed a little bit of time."
LoPresti had mentioned the Aug. 9 Fourstardave Handicap or the Aug. 30 Bernard Baruch, both at Saratoga, as options for 7-year-old Wise Dan.
In his only two starts this year, Wise Dan aced repeat victories in the Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. But the two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner did not start in the Fourstardave, a race he won in 2012 and 2013.
"Ten weeks ago the horse had his belly open on the operating table," LoPresti said. "It's just a slow, fragile process getting him to where I wanted him to be."
After working Wise Dan once on the Keeneland lawn July 11 and twice on the turf at Saratoga's Oklahoma oval, LoPresti shifted to the Saratoga dirt to continue the gelding's stamina-building exercises. The chestnut son of Wiseman's Ferry went six furlongs Aug. 9 on the main track, in company with stablemate Luzianna Man.
"Last week was when I really pushed him, because I felt like he had enough bottom in him," LoPresti said. "That was the work where I really tightened the screws down, and today I expected him to work like his old self."
While LoPresti did not rule out the Bernard Baruch as a potential starting point for Wise Dan's second-half season, he said the Woodbine Mile seems more likely. Wise Dan won the 2013 Woodbine Mile in a track-record 1:31.75 after winning the 2012 edition as well, both races that propelled him toward his Breeders' Cup Mile victories at the end of the year.
"I'm not sure what the right thing to do is," the trainer said of choosing Wise Dan's first race back. "If I run him in the Bernard Baruch, I blow any chance of going to Woodbine with him. Mr. Fink and I talked about it a little bit last week, and we're going to talk about it this week. We're leaning more towards the Woodbine race, to be honest.
"It's not about the money, it's about the grade I status and the kind of horse we still think he is," LoPresti said. Why wouldn't you run him back in a grade I? He's done it every time off the bench. It's a turf course that he really loves, he doesn't have to carry [additional] weight, it's a grade I Breeders' Cup 'Win and You're In.'
"We could run him at Woodbine, run in the Shadwell Turf Mile, run in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and come out of the Breeders' Cup and if all went right, run in the Clark and put him away [for the winter] at the end of the year."
Bred in Kentucky out of the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle, Wise Dan has a record of 21 wins -- 10 of them in Grade 1 events -- and two seconds from 29 starts and earnings of $6,802,920.