BERNARD BARUCH HANDICAP (Grade 2)
Saratoga, Turf, 1710m
30 August 2014
The consummate professional, two-time reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan (Wiseman’s Ferry) was a bit ornery prior to the start of Saturday’s GII Bernard Baruch Handicap, tossing John Velazquez in the gates and delaying the start momentarily. But the chestnut, having his first run in 119 days, was all business in the race, stuck his neck out in the waning strides and got his nose down just ahead of the upset-minded Optimizer (English Channel).
Morton Fink’s homebred came into the event with victories in 12 of his last 13 races and 17 from his last 20. Winner of the 2012 and 2013 runnings of this tracks GII Fourstardave Handicap - with a 129-impost last term, he landed a second consecutive renewal of the GI Woodbine Mile in track record-setting fashion September 15.
He suffered his lone defeat during this most recent stretch at the hands of Silver Max (Badge of Silver) in the rained-off GI Shadwell ‘Turf’ Mile over the Keeneland Poly October 5, but atoned with a 3/4-length success in defense of his title in the GI Breeders’ Cup Mile November 2. Given five months off, Wise Dan resumed by winning Keeneland’s GI Maker’s 46 Mile Stakes for a second straight season April 11 and looked in deep trouble when last seen in the GI Woodford Reserve Turf Classic May 3, as Seek Again (Speightstown) tried him up the rail, but the champ would not be denied and scored by a head.
Less than two weeks later, the-7-year-old found himself undergoing emergency colic surgery and was brought back slowly by Charlie LoPresti, who considered the Fourstardave as the comeback spot, but ultimately decided not to tempt fate and landed here.
Spotting his rivals anywhere from eight to 13 pounds, Wise Dan jumped well enough after being reloaded and settled by his lonesome in fourth, as Five Iron (Sharp Humor) scampered through seemingly unsustainable splits of :23.26 and :46.32 while pressed along by Sayaad (Street Sense) and Bio Pro (War Front) not far behind. Velazquez had his charge in the slipstream of Sayaad down the backstretch and continuously kept checking the rear-view mirror and waiting for the right moment to pull his mount to the outside.
That moment came at about the three-eighths marker, and Wise Dan rolled up three wide to bid at the head of the lane. He drove past Sayaad and Five Iron inside the final furlong, but soon had Optimizer, ground-saving for most of the trip, breathing down his neck. Wise Dan led narrowly into the final 100 yards and willed himself to the victory while spotting the runner-up 11 pounds. The final time was 0.17 seconds off the 23-year-old track record of Fourstardave.
While duly pleased with the outcome, LoPresti was prepared for a loss. “I knew he was training good and I knew he was going to run good,” the conditioner stated. “I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he was beat today; it would have been something to build on. He showed today why he is the two-time Horse of the Year.”
Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News