Wise Dan named Horse of the Year

awincze@herald-leader.comJanuary 19, 2013 

Wise Dan, with John Velazquez up, earned a 11/2-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita in November.

Sometime in the 35 days between the sublime victory in Saratoga and the effortless triumph at Woodbine, trainer Charlie Lopresti started to come to grips with the reality at hand.

While the logical side of Lopresti knew better than to taunt the racing gods by bragging openly about one of his own, what the Keeneland-based conditioner was seeing from his multiple Grade I-winning charge Wise Dan was the stuff that only emanates from the exceptional — those that awe while barely straining their own reserves.

"Once he won the Fourstardave (at Saratoga) and then he went and won the Woodbine race, then I realized how special that horse was," Lopresti recalled last week. "You never want to talk and brag about your horse being special but after that ... I was really confident. I knew how good he was."

For the majority of the voters who cast their Eclipse Award ballots, there indeed was no horse in North America above Wise Dan. As he did on the track, Morton Fink's homebred gelding strode into rarefied company Saturday night when he was named the 2012 Horse of the Year during the 42nd annual Eclipse Awards ceremony at Gulfstream Park.

Before the sport's ultimate year-end prize went his way, Wise Dan was also honored as champion turf male and champion older male earlier in the evening. The 6-year-old gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry becomes the first to sweep all three categories in the same year since John Henry in 1981, who was also the last gelding to be named Horse of the Year prior to Saturday.

"It's just unbelievable to put him in the same light as that," said Lopresti, who guided Wise Dan through a six-race campaign in 2012 that produced five wins and three Grade I scores on the turf.

Wise Dan earned 194 of the 254 first-place votes cast from the NTRA, Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. Fellow finalists I'll Have Another, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and Fort Larned, hero of the Breeders' Cup Classic, received 30 and 12 votes, respectively.

"For me, after all these years, you need something to get up in the morning and look forward to," said Fink, who bred Wise Dan with his lone broodmare, Lisa Danielle. "This horse has made me so happy that I can't even express it in words.

"I consider myself very lucky that in this case everything came together."

The grass may have been Wise Dan's best platform, as was evident during his course-record setting 11/2-length triumph in the Breeders' Cup Mile. But it was his versatility on all surfaces that defined him as a champion.

Wise Dan's season debut in the Grade III Ben Ali at Keene-land had regular rider John Velazquez nearly speechless in the aftermath as the chestnut gelding cantered home by 101/2 lengths while establishing a new mark of 1:46.63 for the Polytrack going 11⁄8 miles.

Following a head loss to Ron the Greek in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs where he was carried wide in the stretch, Wise Dan switched to the turf full time and crushed every rival along the way.

After his 5-length win over a boggy Saratoga course in the Grade II Fourstardave, Wise Dan ripped off victories in the Grade I Woodbine Mile and Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile before his climactic Breeders' Cup finale.

"When he came out of that stall Breeders' Cup night at 2 a.m., he didn't even act like he ran," Lopresti said. "And that's pretty scary."

Though he lost the big prize to Wise Dan, I'll Have Another was a slam-dunk pick for champion 3-year-old male honors, earning 247 first-place votes.

As expected, the tightest race of the Eclipse Awards was the battle for champion 3-year-old filly honors which went to the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Questing by a scant four votes over 2011 juvenile filly champion My Miss Aurelia.

Starlight Racing's unbeaten Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby earned all but one first-place vote in taking champion 2-year-old male honors. Spendthrift Farm's Beholder claimed champion 2-year-old filly hardware to go along with her Breeders' Cup victory.

Royal Delta, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2011, is now a two-time Eclipse Award heroine, having earned champion older female honors over female sprint champion Groupie Doll. The hard-knocking Trinniberg was a runaway pick for champion male sprinter with Zagora being named champion turf female.

Pierrot Lunaire was named champion Steeplechase horse.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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