As Charlie Lopresti emerged from the Keeneland tunnel shortly after the conclusion of Saturday's Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile, the trainer was greeted by a small group of fans making their opinion known as to which Breeders' Cup race they believe should be next for his heralded charge Wise Dan.
Despite the playful chants of "Classic" tossed his way, Lopresti maintains a start in the $2 million Mile rather than the $5 million headliner is still the leading objective.
But given the way Wise Dan once again dismantled a field of accomplished runners with his now customary ease, Lopresti understands why many want to see if the horse already considered the best turf miler in the country is the best North American horse in training, period.
The debate over whether or not Wise Dan should have run in the $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile was silenced by the chestnut gelding himself with a 21/4-length triumph over long shot Willcox Inn and 10 others Saturday.
While Lopresti initially considered training Wise Dan up to this year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park following his 31/4- length victory in the Grade I Woodbine Mile on Sept. 16, the decision to go in the Shadwell essentially served as a paid exercise for the gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry.
After saving ground midpack early and then moving out under jockey Jose Lezcano to mow down rivals with a sweeping move around the far turn, Wise Dan has many wondering if there are any limits to what the Grade I winner on turf and dirt can accomplish.
"Every time I run him, every day I'm around him I say, 'Wow, he really is a good horse,'" said Lopresti, who conditions Morton Fink's homebred. "I knew if he got beat (in the Shadwell) they were going to bash me. But I had to run him somewhere because with the way he trained, I couldn't hold him on the ground until the Breeders' Cup.
"This was a tough bunch of horses, some good horses in there coming off of good races. Every time he runs he surprises me."
Realistically, Wise Dan's performance as the 4-to-5 favorite in the Shadwell was in no way a shocker. The ease with which he goes about his work is what continues to amaze.
Since running fourth in last year's Shadwell — his only defeat in five turf starts — Wise Dan's lone loss in his last seven outings came when he was beaten a head by Ron the Greek in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June. There he was carried out wide in the stretch by Nates Mineshaft.
With Lezcano subbing for regular rider John Velazquez, who had a prior commitment to ride in New York, Wise Dan appeared to extend at will over the firm turf, hitting the wire in 1:34.94.
"He wasn't always easy. When he was 3 and 4, he had Charlie pulling his hair out a bit," said Charlie's wife and chief assistant Amy Lopresti. "This year... he's just grown up. (Exercise rider) Damien Rock and Johnny have done just a fabulous job getting him to relax."
Though Lopresti said his main concern with a possible Breeders' Cup Classic try would be the 11/4-mile distance and how the gelding might handle that main track, he isn't ruling out the chance Wise Dan's ability could render those obstacles moot.
"I just want to do what is right for him, and I wouldn't run him in a race just (to try to win) Horse of the Year," Lopresti said. "I want to put him in the best logical spot for him to win."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.