The lack of a playbook for what the connections of Wise Dan are trying to do speaks to the rarity of the champion gelding himself.
Since the Eclipse Awards were established in 1971, only six horses have won Horse of the Year honors in consecutive seasons. Of that list, another legendary gelding, Forego, is the only one to return off his second year-end honor and reel off a third championship campaign.
The breeding shed's loss is racing's gain again in 2014 as Wise Dan, the reigning two-time Horse of the Year, is slated to make his 7-year-old debut in Friday's Grade I, $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland.
Remarkably, Morton Fink's homebred runner with the elastic stride still has critics who want to see the horse who has won graded stakes on all three surfaces go even further outside the box in terms of surface and distance.
Trainer Charlie LoPresti doesn't worry himself with such chatter. Instead, he tries to remain content that such an exceptional individual landed in his barn and continues to provide racing the enduring ability it keeps saying it wants.
"No one in their wildest dreams with a smaller stable like I have would ever dream of having a horse like that," LoPresti said this week. "I feel pretty satisfied. I feel like whatever else he does is a gift. What he's done, two-time Horse of the Year and six Eclipse Awards, he doesn't have to do anything else."
It would diminish Wise Dan's ability to suggest that whatever results he achieves over the next nine months are secondary. However, his legacy is already set in stone courtesy of eight career Grade I wins — including one on dirt — two straight Breeders' Cup Mile victories and multiple course/track records on turf and synthetic.
LoPresti, as is typical for him, isn't looking much beyond the Maker's 46, which happens to be the same race Wise Dan won a year ago to begin his campaign.
Starts in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, Grade I Stephen Foster, Grade II Fourstardave and Grade I Whitney Handicap have all been mentioned by LoPresti as options for Wise Dan this year. With construction on Keeneland's main track to convert to dirt scheduled to begin May 19, Wise Dan's tentative schedule is already altered.
"With what Keeneland's done here, they've changed my entire program," said LoPresti, who is based at Keeneland year-round. "I have to figure out where I'm going to go and what I'm going to do. I may wind up at Churchill some so he may get a chance to gallop over the dirt. That was not my plan, not what I wanted to do, but that is the hand I've been dealt."
Wise Dan has lost only once in 12 career starts on the grass, that coming in 2011 Shadwell Turf Mile. If he is vulnerable, having not run since his second Breeders' Cup Mile triumph on Nov. 2, his six rivals in the Maker's 46 are more than capable of ruining the champion's debut.
After taking seven tries to break his maiden, Lochte has come into his own this season, winning the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 9 and finishing second in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile on March 8.
Trainer Shug McGaughey saddled Grade I winner Data Link to a runner-up finish in the Maker's 46 last year and brings Reload, victor in the Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 22, into this year's test.
"Wise Dan didn't really figure into this equation," McGaughey said of Reload. "After he won the Canadian, we decided this is where we were going to run him. If he (Wise Dan) is in there, he's in there. But obviously, you'd rather catch him off a 4-5-6 month layoff than when he's at the top of his game. But (Reload) has been an entirely different horse on turf."