Exhales of relief followed by surges of joy reverberated through trainer Charlie LoPresti's Keeneland barn Friday morning as two-time defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan made his return to the worktab for the first time since undergoing colic surgery in May, breezing an easy 4 furlongs in 50.40 seconds over the Keeneland turf.
Wise Dan's recovery from his emergency surgery at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington on May 16 has been ahead of schedule since he got out of the clinic, and Friday's move was another step forward. After warming up with a jog over the training track under regular exercise rider Damien Rock, Wise Dan headed through the tunnel over to the Keeneland turf course and immediately began to lengthen his stride.
Rock had the 7-year-old chestnut gelding under a solid hold as they broke off, finishing up the last quarter in :24 according to LoPresti and galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:02.40.
"I could tell as soon as we got on the turf he was back to his old self," Rock said. "He was real happy and drug me the whole way. I was really happy he galloped out that good and wanted to keep going."
Added LoPresti, "You know what, it was perfect. That's what I was hoping for really. I didn't want him to go out in :47 and change and be dog tired. But that couldn't have worked out any better. What I was interested in was how he came home and his gallop out and those were ... perfect for his first work. Damien said he didn't want to pull up and that's a very good sign. And he's not blowing. That is going to put me so far ahead going into Saratoga."
With his comeback work now under his belt, Wise Dan and the rest of the New York-bound LoPresti contingent is slated to ship to Saratoga late Sunday afternoon with the Grade II Fourstardave Handicap on Aug. 9 still the target for Morton Fink's homebred to make his return to the races.
"If he doesn't back up from here, the Fourstardave is definitely still in the cards," LoPresti said. "We're looking at that, we're looking at the Bernard Baruch (on Aug. 30), and we're looking at Woodbine (Woodbine Mile on Sept. 14). And I wouldn't rule out the Woodward either (at Saratoga on Aug. 30). I'm going to train him up there and I'm going to let Wise Dan tell me what Wise Dan wants to do."
Before being felled by colic, Wise Dan opened his 2014 campaign with victories in the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland and Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs to bring his career record to 21 wins from 29 starts and $6,802,920 in earnings. LoPresti said the two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner would probably work again at Saratoga next Saturday.
It is hard to fathom the six-time Eclipse Award winner and 10-time Grade I victor being much better than he has been. As awe-inspiring as the chestnut son of Wiseman's Ferry has been on the track, LoPresti has been even more slack-jawed at the way the cool-headed gelding has handled his physical setback.
Wise Dan recuperated on LoPresti's Lexington-based farm for a handful of weeks before returning to his Keeneland shedrow June 23, never so much as spiking a fever during his recovery.
"I tell you, I'm just relieved that he is the same horse," LoPresti said. "I knew he was the same horse when we took him off the van (from Rood & Riddle). If he would have spiked a temp or his coat would have been dull or had he been depressed ... I've seen some horses go through that and it takes them a long time to bounce back. But it's almost like it's made him better, it's made him tougher. I don't know how much better he can be than he is but ... he's just freaky, that horse."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.