LOUISVILLE — Everyone has become accustomed to the brilliance, the fact that two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan handles the daunting with customary ease.
While Morton Fink's homebred champion doesn't end up in many mano-a-mano fights because of his superior ability, the 7-year-old gelding demonstrated during Saturday's Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs he sure can spit back when one looks him in the eye.
Of the 10 career Grade I victories Wise Dan now has, the 11⁄8-mile Turf Classic marked his closest margin of victory in such tests. After surging up three-wide to strike the front in the stretch, the six-time Eclipse Award winner had to turn back Grade I winner Seek Again along the hedge, getting up by a head to capture the race for a second straight year.
As he did a year ago, Wise Dan came into the Turf Classic after opening his campaign with a victory in the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland. The chestnut stunner faced a salty bunch of nine rivals on Saturday — including fellow Grade I winners Admiral Kitten and Boisterous — and had to be restrained back into third by jockey John Velazquez after getting rank going by the stands the first time.
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When Wise Dan rolled three-wide past Skyring and pacesetter Bright Thought after sitting off a half-mile in :48.05, Velazquez had to go to some right-handed urging to get the Wiseman's Ferry gelding home over a charging Seek Again for his 21st win in 29 career starts.
"That's the horse I was worried about," Charlie LoPresti, trainer of Wise Dan, said of Seek Again. "That horse was on his heels, he wasn't going to let him get away. But he's just a fighter. When a horse comes to him, he's just not going to let him by. They could have gone another eighth of a mile and he wasn't going to let that horse by."
Wise Dan covered the distance in 1:47.73.
Midnight Lucky too good in Humana Distaff
In her first start since picking up her initial top-level victory last May, Midnight Lucky looked like a dominant force in the female sprint ranks when she dusted a field of six rivals to win the Grade I Humana Distaff by 41/2 lengths.
The 4-year-old Midnight Lute filly was making her first start since winning the Grade I Acorn Stakes last May 27, having been sidelined for the remainder of 2013 with bone bruising.
With Rosie Napravnik in the irons, Midnight Lucky took command of the 7-furlong Humana Distaff out of post No. 8, sitting on cruise control through a half-mile in :45.04 and ending all suspense regarding the outcome by the time she crossed the wire in 1:22.23 in front of long shot Street Girl.
Judy the Beauty, the 6-5 favorite, finished fourth.
Other Derby undercard winners
Coffee Clique fought back on the hedge after Dame Marie took a short lead in the stretch to prevail by half a length and win her second career graded stakes victory in the Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile.
Trained by Brian Lynch with Javier Castellano up, Coffee Clique saved ground throughout, sitting fourth down the backstretch as I'm Already Sexy was clear on the front end through a half in :46.98. When I'm Already Sexy began to weaken, Coffee Clique angled past her and surged to the lead in the final strides to cover the distance in 1:34.66 over a course rated firm.
■ In the 23rd running of the Grade II American Turf, Glen Hill Farm's royally bred Global View angled out from behind horses and carried Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens to a late-running victory in the 11⁄16-mile race.
The son of Galileo was coming off a seventh-place finish in the Grade III Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland but had scored his previous graded stakes win on the turf when he captured the Grade III Generous Stakes. Storming Inti looked in position for victory when he overtook pacesetter Craftsman only to be caught by Global View inside the final sixteenth in a final time of 1:41.65.
■ It was a nailbiter of a finish in the Grade II Churchill Downs with Central Banker turning back Shakin It Up after that one looked to have him measured to halt his five-race losing skid.
Trained by Al Stall Jr., Central Banker settled four-wide under jockey Corey Nakatani close to the early fractions of :29.29 and :44.69. The son of Speightstown moved past Delaunay to take the lead in the upper stretch when Grade I winner Shakin It Up — who had advanced just behind him — rolled up to his flank and seemed poised to run by. Central Banker battled on to get up by a head covering the 7 furlongs in 1:21.25.