Trainer Charlie LoPresti crouched outside his office in his Keeneland shedrow Friday morning, eyes beaming with pride, and took in a view he's been waiting to see since last year.
His champion charge, Wise Dan, had just put in his first timed workout since being sidelined with a non-displaced fracture at the bottom of the cannon bone of his right front fetlock last October. It was the 8-year-old gelding's first serious move since last September — and darned if LoPresti and exercise rider Jenn Patterson couldn't find a stitch of rust on him.
"He's an amazing horse, isn't he," LoPresti grinned, turning to an equally starstruck Patterson.
Doing things normal horses just aren't supposed to do has been the hallmark of Wise Dan's future Hall of Fame career. On Friday, the two-time Horse of the Year added another log to that fire when he drilled 4 furlongs in :48.20 over the Keeneland turf course, moving with ease under Patterson and galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:01.60.
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The return of Wise Dan to the worktab is a monster step forward as he attempts to come back from the injury that knocked him out of last year's Breeders' Cup Mile — a race he had won the two years prior. LoPresti's patient hand has been taking the cautious approach every step of the way since Wise Dan returned to his Keeneland barn in March, watching every move as Morton Fink's homebred son of Wiseman's Ferry progressed from tack walking to jogging to galloping to his full-on return.
"Jenn said the last couple days she's been on him, "Charlie, he just gets better every day I ride him,'" LoPresti said. "I just wanted to get through this breeze and make sure he's OK. I'm just really happy for him (Wise Dan) because that's what he wants to do. He wants to train, he wants to run. He's happy doing what he does and you saw that today.
"Here's a horse who hasn't run since the Shadwell (Mile at Keeneland) last year and hasn't had a work and comes up here and works :48 and change and out in 1:01 and (Jenn) never even moved on him. That tells you what kind of horse he is. It's a big relief to me to know that he's back and his ankle is good and he's happy."
Patterson was breezing Wise Dan for the first time in place of his normal exercise rider Damien Rock, who is recovering from knee surgery. Though she counts 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb and multiple Grade I winner Point of Entry among the many top horses she has been on in her career, Patterson said she can move Wise Dan right to the forefront of horses who have inspired chills.
"Charlie asked what I thought (of the work) and I thought we went in 50 and change," Patterson said. "Then I heard the real time and I said, 'You're kidding me.' He just does it so easily. He was so relaxed and settled, just getting over the turf really nice. He took me around there.
"He's right up there. As well as he just did that breeze with it being his first breeze back I mean, you don't come by that very often. Actually, I really never had. I've had a few horses fool me with how easy they go, and he did that. He came back with his ears pricked, happy."
Wise Dan hasn't started since winning the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last Oct. 4. That victory was the 11th Grade I win for the six-time Eclipse Award winner and came less than five months after he had undergone emergency colic surgery on May 16, 2014.
LoPresti said he plans to keep Wise Dan at Keeneland instead of shipping the chestnut gelding to Saratoga. He added that "in a perfect world" he would like to run Wise Dan in the Grade I Woodbine Mile — a race he won in 2012 and 2013 — return to Keeneland for the Shadwell Turf Mile and attempt to claim the Breeders' Cup Mile for a third time at Keeneland on Oct. 31.
"I want to get through a couple of breezes with him and see where I'm at," LoPresti said. "From what I saw today, he's pretty fit."
Wise Dan swept the Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year, champion older male and champion turf male in 2012 and 2013. He has 23 wins from 31 starts with earnings of $7,552,920.