What Wise Dan has done over a racecourse is a marvel. A career that began in February 2010 has defied the decline of time, instead surging forward with brilliance.
But fifteen weeks ago, as the two-time Horse of the Year was being prepped for colic surgery inside Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, the last thing trainer Charlie LoPresti and owner/breeder Morton Fink concerned themselves with was what the 7-year-old gelding could further achieve in racing.
In that moment, they would have traded his six Eclipse Awards for a guarantee that he would get off the operating table with a healthy prognosis. And if it meant his probable Hall of Fame career was over, so be it if it allowed him to happily reside at LoPresti's Lexington farm for the rest of his days.
Wise Dan, being the freak that he is, will race again Saturday, breaking from post No. 5 in the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga Race Course in what will be his first start since undergoing emergency colic surgery.
If he can resume competing at his championship level, it will be a giant dose of gravy in the career of a horse who owes no one anything. According to his remarkable constitution as well as veterinary science, there should be only a modicum of surprise if that happens.
A study conducted by researchers from the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania this year examined the impact of colic surgery on the function of Thoroughbreds returning to racing.
The study reviewed the records of 59 horses between the ages of 2 and 5 that were in race training and had colic surgery between 1996 and 2009. The results found that 45 of 59 horses that raced before surgery and returned to racing had "no differences in performance variables, compared with their untreated cohorts."
Aiding Wise Dan's cause in adding to that favorable statistic is that he did not have any portion of his bowel removed. LoPresti has said that somewhere between the time the gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry was being prepped and him being cut open, the portion of his small intestine that had been lodged behind the spleen corrected itself.
Hence, what Wise Dan essentially had was exploratory surgery followed by an ahead-of-schedule recovery that saw him lose only 5-10 pounds.
"What we were basically dealing with was just healing an incision," LoPresti said. "I tell you, it didn't take very much time. He was off for 31/2 weeks and then we started to tack walk him in four weeks, and then we jogged him for a week, and then we went right back to the track.
"I'm just glad we've made it to this point. I'm thinking how lucky we are to get him back to the races ... getting the chance to get him back in a race."
Pre-surgery Wise Dan this year was already in rare form. After opening his 2014 campaign with a victory in the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland in April, he defeated Seek Again by a head in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic over the Churchill Downs turf on May 3.
Given the layoff and the surgery, he is considered a vulnerable favorite for Saturday's 11⁄16-mile Bernard Baruch. He will also have to carry 127 pounds, giving up between 8 and 13 pounds to the seven rivals he is expected to face, a bunch that includes the likes of Grade I winner Boisterous and multiple graded stakes winner Five Iron.
"He knows it's game on now," LoPresti said. "I took him to the gate (Thursday) and stood him and took him to the paddock, he knows. He's really good right now and he wants to run; he's ready to run."
LoPresti jokes he isn't a schedule guy, so what comes next for Wise Dan is perpetually in pencil. A run back in the Grade I Woodbine Mile — a race Wise Dan has won the past two years — on Sept. 14 seems unlikely given the turnaround, so the tentative plan after Saturday could point the 10-time Grade I winner to the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 4 as his prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Plans go awry. The morning of May 16 drove that home for Wise Dan's connections. The constant throughout all of it is that he endures at a level that inspires.
"You know everybody is really behind this horse, it's just amazing to me," LoPresti said. "Even the trainers up here, every trainer that I've talked to has been so glad that he's back. It's really neat. We're just glad he's back and he's healthy.
"He looks like a million dollars. He looks like (his career earnings of) $6.8 million dollars."