Wise Dan was less than a week away from attempting what would have been his latest comeback in a career defined by stirring rallies.
But after a morning highlighted by a display of his routine brilliance, the two-time Horse of the Year officially had the book closed on what will surely go down as a Hall of Fame career.
Morton Fink's homebred six-time Eclipse Award-winner was retired on Monday because of a torn tendon, an injury diagnosed after trainer Charlie LoPresti noticed filling in the leg following what he termed a "monster" morning of training for the 8-year-old gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry.
Wise Dan had been sidelined since suffering a non-displaced fracture at the bottom of the cannon bone of his right front fetlock last October, but had trained stoutly in preparation for his anticipated return to the races in the Grade I Woodbine Mile this coming Sunday.
Never miss a local story.
LoPresti said the tendon ailment was not related to the previous ankle injury. And while the 2012 and 2013 Horse of the Year hadn't even taken so much as a bad step while being diagnosed, LoPresti and Fink both decided that the long term health of the 11-time Grade I winner wasn't worth the risk of another return to the track.
"He'd been training lights out. But, we noticed some filling in his tendon this morning when we were giving him a bath," said LoPresti in a release from Woodbine Racetrack. "The vet suggested we scan it and it turns out he has a tear on the outside edge of his tendon.
"Mr. Fink and I talked about it and we've all decided he should be retired at this age. There's no point trying to bring him back again. I expect he'll retire to our farm here in Kentucky. He'll be turned out with his (half) brother Successful Dan."
The angst of no longer being able to watch the two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner compete pales compared to the enduring emotional elation Wise Dan brought to those who developed the chestnut stunner into one of racing's all-time greats.
Wise Dan's career could have been done for on May 16, 2014, when he was rushed to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for emergency colic surgery.
But just like he did so often in his 23 career wins on the racetrack, Wise Dan shook off that adversity and returned without missing a beat, winning the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap by a nose at Saratoga in his comeback race last Aug. 30, and then prevailing in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last October before being felled by his ankle injury.
"It's hard to put into words but he's certainly lifted me up," Fink, who has been undergoing dialysis treatments, said of his charge last October. "This horse has been everything to me, especially with the various illnesses I've had the last 10 years. He's the best medicine I've ever had."
Though he will go down as one of the best ever to grace the turf, Wise Dan's 31-race career can also be hailed as a classic example of all-around ability as well as a tribute to LoPresti's horsemanship.
A graded stakes winner on turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces, Wise Dan first tried the turf in the 2011 Grade II Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs in an attempt by LoPresti to get the headstrong gelding out of a three-race losing skid.
His 23/4-length win that day was only a hint of what was to come the next few seasons. Wise Dan's only loss in 16 starts on turf came when he ran fourth behind champion Gio Ponti in the 2011 Shadwell Turf Mile. That same year, Wise Dan would notch his first Grade I win when he captured the Clark Handicap on the dirt at Churchill Downs that November, signaling his rise to racing's forefront.
In addition to being named Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013, he also swept the Eclipse Awards those seasons for champion turf male and champion older male.
"He's just in a different league than most horses," LoPresti said last summer.
Among the litany of highlights in Wise Dan's career were his course record-setting triumph over champion Animal Kingdom in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile, his victory during a driving rainstorm in the 2013 Grade II Firecracker when he bounced off the hedge and still prevailed under regular rider John Velazquez, and another course record-setting win in the 2013 Woodbine Mile.
The Woodbine Mile (2012-13), Breeders Cup Mile (2012-13), Shadwell Turf Mile (2012, 2014), Maker's 46 Mile (2013-14), and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (2013-14) were all Grade I races Wise Dan won twice during a career that saw him amass $7,552,920 in earnings.
"He had trained like a monster this morning," LoPresti said Monday. "He never took a bad step, it was just something I noticed while giving him a bath. "We were trying to get to the Breeders' Cup, and we thought Woodbine was the perfect place to get started. We were so excited about coming but it wasn't meant to be."