They have to line up and keep trying to beat him, on the off chance that after 12 months of perfection, Wise Dan will wake up the morning of a race and have what amounts to a bad day.
A year after winning the one-mile turf test to begin what has become a seven-race win streak, the reigning Horse of the Year returns as the heavy favorite for Saturday's Grade II, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, barely offering his six challengers hope that a moment of vulnerability is on the horizon.
The closest Wise Dan has come to putting a foot wrong since his 5-length victory in last year's Fourstardave came when he slipped and bobbled — but still kicked clear — over a monsoon-drenched turf at Churchill Downs during his hedge-skimming triumph in the Grade II Firecracker Handicap on June 29.
The 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding has continued to stun since arriving in Saratoga. His lone work over the turf at the Spa was his typical jaw dropper, a 5-furlong move in 57.38. In an effort to try to keep Morton Fink's homebred from going too fast in his final pre-race breeze, trainer Charlie LoPresti worked Wise Dan on the dirt this past Saturday, a 4-furlong move in 49.59 that sparked another round of wistful thinking of how the chestnut who is a graded winner on all three surfaces could fare if given another chance to race over the main track.
"He's spot on, I think he couldn't be any better right now," LoPresti said from Saratoga on Wednesday. "He could have run in the (Grade I) Whitney (last Saturday) because he's training lights out on the dirt up here. But Mr. Fink's told me pretty much he'd like to stay on the grass, so I'm not going to challenge him or talk him into something he doesn't want to do."
Though fans and would-be experts have clamored for Wise Dan's connections to step outside the box with his race selection, deviating from the path that earned him the 2012 Eclipse Awards for champion older male and champion turf male as well as Horse of the Year is not likely, according to LoPresti.
With his older half brother Successful Dan, who ran second in the Whitney, pointing for a possible start in the Grade I Woodward on Aug. 31, Wise Dan is slated for return trips to the Grade I Woodbine Mile and Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile en route to a possible title defense in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Considering that LoPresti and Fink have twice called audibles this season — first by running in and winning the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on May 4 three weeks after taking the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland and again when the decision was made to go in the Firecracker — even the above path is far from set in stone.
"With the addition of the Firecracker, I told Mr. Fink we may have to subtract a race (Woodbine or Shadwell). but I don't know that until I run him and see how much this race takes out of him," LoPresti said. "But he's doing really good, his workouts have been incredible.
"People don't believe me when I tell them, but he's a freak of nature, this horse."
Installed as the 3-to-5 choice on the morning line, Wise Dan will break from post position No. 1 in the Fourstardave — the same point he won from last year — under regular rider John Velazquez.
Multiple graded stakes winner Mr. Commons, third to Wise Dan in the Maker's 46, is ambitiously seeking to halt a nine-race losing skid dating to March 2012. The horse with the most recent form against Wise Dan is Al Stall Jr.-trainee Lea, the 5-to-1 second choice who was a game runner-up in the Firecracker in just his second start back off a 61/2-month layoff.
"We did it last time," Stall said of facing Wise Dan. "If we were dumb enough to do it last time, we're dumb enough to do it again."
Grade II $500,000 handicap
1. Wise Dan 3-5
2. Skyring 15-1
3. Za Approval 8-1
4. Mr.Commons 10-1
5. Willyconker 30-1
6. King Kreesa 6-1
7. Lea 5-1
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.