Morton Fink's Horse of the Year Wise Dan makes his final start before the Breeders' Cup Mile Oct. 5 at Keeneland, defending his title in the $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes.
The three-time Eclipse Award winner drew the outside post in a field of 10 and will have regular rider John Velazquez in the irons for trainer Charlie LoPresti, who also saddles 2011 Ricoh Woodbine Mile winner Turallure from the 2 hole with Julien Leparoux aboard.
Wise Dan, a homebred 6-year-old son of Wiseman's Ferry , is undefeated in 2013 and has won nine grade I or grade II events in a row, including a record-setting run in the Breeders' Cup Mile last year. He most recently scored a repeat Woodbine Mile victory Sept. 15 in a track record 1:31.75, and has won 10 of 11 outings on the turf.
LoPresti, who has trained Wise Dan through 25 career starts, including 18 wins and a second with earnings of $5,043,610, said the chestnut gelding is just as good as he was last year, if not better.
"I think from what I see he's every bit what he was last year," LoPresti remarked. "The Woodbine race told me that. My jaw was dropped. I was just in awe. And Johnny told me after the race, 'I couldn't get him pulled up.' He said 'I thought he was kind of settled and quiet in the post parade so I kind of got him away from there running this time, but man, once he grabbed the bit, I was talking him out of that!' He said 'I'll never do that again!'"
Wise Dan began the year at Keeneland with a victory in the April 12 Maker's 46 Mile Stakes, won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs, took his second Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga Race Course, and became the first horse to win two editions of the Woodbine Mile. Although his connections have faced criticism for running a conservative campaign, LoPresti said public opinion makes no impact on his training plans.
"We got three Eclipse Awards last year," LoPresti said. "Yes, it would be nice to do that again, but I'm not consumed with it like some people would be. I'm more consumed with keeping him undefeated, to end the year with a perfect record. But I'm not going to jump off the building with a rope around my neck if he gets beat, because guess what, he's been beat before.
"Believe me, I don't know that I'll ever have another horse like him. I'm realistic to know that. I know how lucky I am to have him, and all I want to do right now is take care of him. That's all I care about doing, taking care of him, and I think we're doing the best job we can.
"If we're lucky enough to get through these next two races and he stays undefeated for the year, I'll feel like I've done the best job I can with my horse. If they don't give him Horse of the Year and criticize me for what we did, well, that's their problem, not mine. I'm not going to let anybody influence me what to do with that horse just to make them happy."
Mark Bacon and Dana Wells' Silver Max appears chief among rivals for Wise Dan, although he finished ninth in the Shadwell in 2012. The Dale Romans trainee won his past two races in gate-to-wire fashion; the Oceanport at Monmouth Park and the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga. A 4-year-old by Badge of Silver , he will break from post 9 under Robby Albarado.
Waterford Stable's Summer Front, trained by Christophe Clement, also has won his past two races, taking the Miami Mile Handicap at Calder Casino & Race Course in April and the Aug. 25 Cliff Hanger at Monmouth. Joe Bravo has the mount from the 5 hole.
Argentinian import Winning Prize, a multiple group I winner in his native country, is another of interest. Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Neil Drysdale for Jose Nelson and David Heerensperger, the Pure Prize colt made his first U.S. start a winning one Aug. 22 at Del Mar, taking a one mile turf allowance by four lengths in 1:32.96. Garrett Gomez rides from the rail.
Willcox Inn, second in the Shadwell last year by 2 1/4 lengths, returns to this spot for trainer Mike Stidham. The 5-year-old Harlan's Holiday runner took the Aug. 31 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park last time out.
Calumet Farm's grade II winner Skyring, who finished 10th in the Shadwell Turf Mile in 2012 and was sixth behind Wise Dan in the Aug. 10 Fourstardave last time out, is also in the field.
Trainer Wayne Catalano has two for the Shadwell; Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Coalport, winner of the Sept. 14 Franklin-Simpson Mile Stakes at Kentucky Downs last time out, and William Stiritz's winner Hogy, who took the Presque Isle Mile Stakes last time out and is cross-entered in the Oct. 6 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix.
Reddam Racing's Handsome Mike, winner of the 2012 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) and a grade III victor in the Commonweath Stakes (gr. III) on the Keeneland Polytrack this spring, completes the field for trainer Doug O'Neill.
The Shadwell Turf Mile is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In Event," with the winner securing a berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Wise Dan has already won a Breeders' Cup Challenge race this year in the Woodbine Mile.