ARCADIA, Calif. — The reality of the moment didn't fully hit Wise Dan's connections until around 4:40 p.m. PDT. But for the better part of the last few months, the 5-year-old gelding had been telling his people to brace themselves for what he was going to unleash before the Santa Anita Park patrons on Nov. 3.
Every time the son of Wiseman's Ferry flexed his muscles on the track, he told trainer Charlie Lopresti and his team they were in the presence of arguably the best horse in North America.
In the aftermath of Wise Dan's record-setting triumph in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile, it stands to reason that belief will transform into fact.
All the brilliant signals Wise Dan has been giving out of late came together Saturday when he defeated in track-record time a field considered among the best on the Breeders' Cup card, stamping himself as the likely favorite for 2012 Horse of the Year honors.
As Wise Dan strolled across the finish line 11/2 lengths in front of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Lopresti let loose a series of high fives as owner/breeder Morton Fink battled to hold back tears.
Were it not for a loss by a head to Ron the Greek in the Grade I Stephen Foster, Wise Dan would be six-for-six this year, having won four straight including three consecutive Grade I triumphs.
"He has so much raw talent, people don't even realize how much talent he has," said Lopresti, who finished second in the Mile by a nose last year with Grade I winner Turallure. "Every time I work him or do something with him, I see something different, something more exciting. I mean, how much faster can you run than that? I don't think they run faster than that.
"Horses like this take you places you've never been."
Already a Grade I winner on dirt and a graded stakes victor on all three surfaces last year, Wise Dan has added new maturity to his innate talent this season.
Once regarded as one of the toughest horses in Lopresti's barn to even gallop, the 5-year-old has been more relaxed in his races this year, making him even more handy for jockey John Velazquez to maneuver at will.
"You can do everything right ... and then you get a bad trip and lose," said Fink, who also owns Wise Dan's graded stakes-winning half brother Successful Dan. "With this horse, it's almost impossible to do that to him. As soon as he sees daylight, he's gone and nobody will beat him."
Sent off as the 6-to-5 pick in a nine-horse field that also featured multiple Group I winner Excelebration, Wise Dan settled on the inside in third while pacesetter Obviously cut an opening half in :46.16.
When Velazquez angled Wise Dan out coming off the turn and took over in midstretch, only the clock was his rival as he established a track mark of 1:31.78, bettering the previous record of 1:31.89 set by Atticus in 1989.
Animal Kingdom, who was making his first start since February, rallied to get second, finishing a half length in front of Obviously.
"He's the real deal, no doubt about it," Graham Motion, trainer of Animal Kingdom, said of Wise Dan. "It takes a special horse to beat (Animal Kingdom)."
Just how special Wise Dan is, is something Lopresti is still trying to grasp.
"He has done things in the morning you don't believe," Lopresti said. "He's just a dream come true."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.