One of trainer Charlie LoPresti's favorite refrains is as long as his horses run well and come back well, it's good enough to satisfy him.
But much as the Keeneland-based conditioner likes to keep such things in check, he couldn't deny a different level of expectation when the trainee in question is the reigning Horse of the Year and the prize in question another legacy-enhancing Grade I race.
Thus, as the five-horse field for Friday's Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland stepped toward the starting gate, it was to Wise Dan's advantage that the horse named North America's best in 2012 was unaware he carried way more than his assigned weight of 123 pounds.
Little more than one minute and 36 seconds later, LoPresti and company could finally exhale, safe in the knowledge the champion gelding still holds the bar of excellence for others to match.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"I did not want this horse to get beat today," LoPresti said. "I would have been really sad if he got beat today."
Five months after his last race appearance, 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan served warning to anyone thinking his copper coat was dusted in rust. Morton Fink's champion homebred gelding rebuffed a challenge from defending race winner Data Link and let his class carry him home to a 1-length triumph in the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile before a crowd of 15,406.
When a horse ends a season with four consecutive wins, three Grade I victories and a course-record setting win in the Breeders' Cup Mile that subsequently earned him three Eclipse Awards, anything short of similar form upon his return would be ripe for harsh critique.
By LoPresti's admission, Wise Dan wasn't at his peak heading into the Maker's 46. It didn't matter, not when Data Link ranged up to challenge the 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding at the head of the lane and not when Wise Dan kicked away from his challengers under right-handed urging from jockey Jose Lezcano.
"He never surprises me how good he is. I've been around this for 40 years and I've never had anything like this," Fink said. "I'm getting to the point where I think that nobody can beat him.
"When (Data Link) came to him at the eighth pole, that would tell you if five months off meant anything. But (Wise Dan) wouldn't let anyone pass him."
Fully cranked or not, Wise Dan came into hand quicker than even LoPresti expected after his winter break, a fact that only added to his overwhelming 2-5 odds over a bunch that included graded stakes winners Mr. Commons and Silentio.
With Silentio setting fractions of :24.61 and :48.84 on the lead, Lezcano kept Wise Dan in the outside path in third just off the flank of Skyring with Data Link trailing in fifth.
"He wanted to go on but I wanted to slow him down," said Lezcano, who picked up the mount on Wise Dan when regular rider John Velazquez was injured in a spill at Aqueduct last weekend. "I waited as long as he could but he's a champion, you know."
When go time came, Wise Dan ranged up three-wide to engage the leaders entering the final turn with Data Link swinging out behind him to mount his own charge.
Try as Data Link may to gain ground, Wise Dan swapped to his right lead in the stretch and came home with more to give, hitting the wire in 1:36.37 over a course rated firm.
"His heart got him home," a relieved LoPresti said. "I didn't have him cranked as tight as I could, these other horses had races under their belts and I was a little concerned turning for home that he would get a little tired. But his class got him home.
"When you have a horse with his caliber everyone wants to see him run in a Grade I and he pulled it off. It was nerve wracking."
Data Link, who beat Wise Dan's stablemate Turallure in last year's Maker's 46, held for second with Mr. Commons third.
With career victory No. 14 from 21 starts in the books and his comeback win out of the way, discussion now turns to what kind of campaign Wise Dan will have for the remainder of 2013.
Though the chestnut gelding won the Grade I Clark Handicap on the dirt at Churchilll Downs in 2011, his narrow loss in the Grade I Stephen Foster there last June was the only blemish in his six starts a year ago — something his connections might want to rectify.
"I'd like to do everything I did last year ... and win the Stephen Foster," LoPresti said. "I think he is still light coming out of winter and so that is why I want to be real careful how quick I run him back. I don't want to throw him to the wolves every time."
Grade I maker's 46 mark mile stakes