Morton Fink's homebred Horse of the Year Wise Dan will launch a title defense Nov. 2 in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile, a race he won in record-setting style last season to cap a campaign that brought him additional Eclipse Awards as champion turf horse and outstanding older male.
But the 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding must rebound from his only loss of 2013, an off-the-turf edition of the Oct. 5 Shadwell Turf Mile, in which he finished second to Silver Max by 1 ¼ lengths going 1 1/16 miles on the Polytrack at Keeneland. And in this year's edition of the Mile at Santa Anita Park, Wise Dan will meet Silver Max again — along with other foes he's faced before, a handful of newcomers, and a pair of European invaders rounding out the field of 10.
BREEDERS' CUP MILE MORNING LINE ODDS
Wise Dan's record for trainer Charlie LoPresti was otherwise sterling this season, justifying his status as the even-money favorite on the Mile morning line. He repeated his 2012 victory in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile in record time at Woodbine, notched a second score in the Fourstardave at Saratoga Race Course, won the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs, and put together back-to-back Grade 1 victories in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill and the Maker's 46 Mile Stakes at Keeneland. The streak snapped with his Shadwell loss came after nine straight wins, six of them Grade 1 events.
The three-time Eclipse Award winner will break from post 8 with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the irons. Last year, he won from post 2 in a track-record 1:31.78 for the mile.
"That's good, I'm really happy and fine with that," LoPresti said of this year's post position. "All the speed is to the inside of me."
Mark Bacon and Dana Wells' Silver Max was the first horse to have beaten Wise Dan since the Horse of the Year's runner-up finish by a head to Ron the Greek on dirt in the Stephen Foster Handicap of 2012. Silver Max dug in and held stubbornly for that victory after leading all the way on a track dampened by record rainfall.
This year the 4-year-old son of Silver Deputy won the Bernard Baruch and Oceanport Stakes for trainer Dale Romans, adding to his 2012 wins in the Virginia Derby, Arlington Classic, American Turf, and Transylvania. Robby Albarado rides from post 3; Silver Max is 5-1 on the morning line.
Also coming in off a loss but with a solid record this year is Anthony Fanticola and Joseph Scardino's Obviously, who finished a game third in the 2012 Mile after showing the way. The 5-year-old Irish-bred Choisir gelding repeated in the Del Mar Mile, where he set a track record in 2012, and also powered home in the Shoemaker Mile and the American Handicap.
Trainer Mike Mitchell saddles Obviously off a loss; he was fourth in the Oct. 5 City of Hope Mile Stakes at Santa Anita in his Breeders' Cup prep, finishing out of the top three for the first time since his debut race as a 2-year-old in Ireland in 2011. Obviously will depart the 4 hole with Joe Talamo in the irons.
"He's got so much speed and the game plan is to go," Mitchell said. "I love the post. I don't think anybody is wondering what we're going to do with him. We're just going to get out of the gate and roll with him."
One of interest in this spot is Za Approval, Live Oak Plantation's runner-up to Wise Dan in the Woodbine Mile. The 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding won the Oct. 12 Knickerbocker Handicap at Belmont Park after his 3 ½-length loss to Wise Dan. He was 3 ¼ lengths behind Obviously in the Shoemaker Mile, and before that won the Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park and the Appleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Christophe Clement trains; Za Approval drew the outside and will be ridden by Joel Rosario.
Irish-bred Olympic Glory poises the largest threat of the European contingent and is the second choice at 4-1, having been sent over off an Oct. 19 win in the British Champions Mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Wearing blinkers first time for that start for trainer Richard Hughes, the sophomore Choisir colt was geared down for a comfortable 3 ¼-length margin in the mile event. He is owned by Quatari Sheikh Joaan Al Thani, who granted the mount to Richard Hughes. Olympic Glory leaves post 5.
The other international invader is Cristoforo Colombo, a Henrythenavigator colt who has won twice in Europe for trainer Aiden O'Brien and the Coolmore connections. He was seventh in the six-furlong Johnny O'Sullivan Waterford Stakes Oct. 13 on turf at The Curragh and won Oct. 4 at Dundalk sprinting on the synthetic surface. He will be ridden from the 9 hole by Ryan Moore.
Recently imported from Great Britain and undefeated in two starts for trainer Simon Callaghan is Anthony Ramsden's 3-year-old gelding No Jet Lag, a son of Johar who took the City of Hope after winning an optional claimer at Del Mar on Aug. 11. No Jet Lag drew the rail under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
Cicero Farms' He Be Fire N Ice was half a length behind No Jet Lag in the City of Hope, and finished that same distance behind Obviously in the Del Mar Mile, which was his graded stakes debut. Trainer John Sadler sent the 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat into stiffer competition off a trio of victories including the July 21 California Dreamin Handicap at Del Mar. Victor Espinoza has the assignment here from post 7.
Another coming out of the Del Mar Mile is Wertheimer and Frere's Silentio, who finished third by three-quarters of a length. The 4-year-old Silent Name colt missed the Frank E Kilroe Mile by a nose to Suggestive Boy earlier in the year, that loss after a third in the Arcadia Stakes also won by Suggestive Boy. Before the Del Mar Mile he was fifth for trainer Gary Mandella in the Maker's 46 Mile. Rafael Bejarano rides from the 2 hole.
Completing the field is Dy and Venneri Racing's Bright Thought, winner of three straight who comes into this event having last run in the March 16 San Luis Rey Stakes, a race he won by 3 ¼ lengths. The 4-year-old Hat Trick colt has won four in a row and is trained by Jorge Gutierrez, who will give a leg up to Julien Leparoux from post 6.