When in doubt, most learned horsemen let their charges tell them what they're ready to do or not do. The message trainer Charlie LoPresti is getting from two-time defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan is that he needs to run, pronto.
While his internal debate continues, LoPresti said the plan is to enter champion Wise Dan in the Grade II, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap going 11⁄16 miles on the turf at Saratoga on Aug. 30. The race would be the first start for Morton Fink's homebred champion gelding since undergoing emergency colic surgery on May 16.
After Wise Dan worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.64 on the Saratoga main track Saturday, LoPresti indicated he was leaning toward waiting until the Grade I Woodbine Mile on Sept. 16. On Tuesday afternoon, LoPresti said that it was becoming harder to keep the 7-year-old chestnut son of Wiseman's Ferry on the ground and that by entering the Bernard Baruch, it gives him more options in case anything goes awry.
"We're going to enter him and look at it," LoPresti said from his Saratoga base on Tuesday. "If I don't enter him, I don't get a chance to look and see what my competition is, what the weight spread will be, all that stuff. It's like something that you're cooking and you can overcook it. I would love to run him in the Woodbine Mile but I might overcook him if I wait that long.
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"He's dragging (exercise rider) Damien Rock around," LoPresti continued. "He drug him around Monday like he never even worked. He's wanting more. So how much more can I do ... we're going to have to find out. I've got him right, I've got to run somewhere. I can't just sit on him forever."
Should Wise Dan end up being assigned an exceptional amount of weight in the Bernard Baruch or if rain were to soak the course that day, LoPresti said he could still bypass that race and have the Woodbine Mile — a race Wise Dan has won the past two years — as a backup.
Even if the six-time Eclipse Award winner does run in the Bernard Baruch, a trip to Canada might still be possible depending on how stressful a race he has in his return effort.
"He's an amazing horse and I wouldn't rule out anything," LoPresti said. "If the Bernard Baruch comes up an easy race and it's basically a paid workout for him, why wouldn't I turn around and run him in the Woodbine race? Or if the Bernard Baruch is too tough on him, I have the option of skipping the Woodbine race and going to the Shadwell (at Keeneland in October). I have to have options and that's why, if I don't enter him in the Bernard Baruch, I'll never know."
Winning the Breeders' Cup Mile for a third straight year is the goal for Team Wise Dan. Before being felled by surgery, the champion gelding served notice that such a target was more than achievable as he won the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland in his season debut on April 11 and then won the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 3.
Even though the 10-time Grade I winner did have to undergo surgery, the process was largely exploratory as they did not have to resect any portion of his bowel.
"Basically all we were dealing with was healing his incision," LoPresti said. "The surgeon said the only thing that is going to stop this horse (on his comeback) is if he colics again. It's made me realize that nothing is for sure in what you do, you should never take anything for granted."