Wise Dan was perfect on Canadian soil and to many he was considered the perfect racehorse – fast, brave and a graded stakes winner on three surfaces. The champion chestnut had an unquenchable will to win.
Through 32 career starts, the versatile Morton Fink homebred, a son of Wiseman’s Ferry– Lisa Danielle, recorded an astounding 23 wins while banking in excess of $7.5 million.
Before being coined a ‘Titan of the Turf’ by Woodbine track announcer Dan Loiselle, Wise Dan was a Polytrack phenom at Keeneland Raceourse for trainer Charles LoPresti.
He notched his first added-money win on the Keeneland synthetic in the Grade 3 Phoenix Stakes, a six-furlong sprint, on Oct. 8, 2010, and successfully stretched out to nine furlongs to win the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes by a widening 10 1/2-lengths on April 22, 2012.
In August of 2012, Wise Dan would move to the turf full-time winning 14 of his final 15 career starts, including successive scores in the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile in 2012-13, which both led to stirring victories in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile. His only loss in that span came in the off-the-turf Grade 1 Shadwell at Keeneland when second to Silver Max after a troubled trip.
Wise Dan was named U.S. Horse of the Year in the seasons of his Woodbine Mile wins becoming one of only four turf horses to take that honour since Eclipse Award voting began in 1971.
His arrival at Woodbine in 2012 was met with great fanfare. He was front-page news on the sports pages and media traveled from across the U.S. to watch him run. A simple morning gallop over the Woodbine turf attracted a crowd of admiring horsemen and a horde of equine paparazzi recording every moment.
On race day, Wise Dan’s copper coat gleamed. He was the mutuel choice, the people’s favourite and social media spun out of control with the Woodbine Mile hashtag of #WoMile trending across North America.
In the midst of that tempest, top Woodbine jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson was upset-minded with Hunters Bay, a multiple graded stakes winner with an impeccable pedigree.
“Hunters Bay is as legitimate a racehorse as I’ve ever been on. Going into a race, you respect your competitors but you never let them intimidate you,” said Wilson. “Before each race, behind the gate, Hunters Bay would stare down all the other horses and no one would look him in the eye. All the horses would move away from him. You could tell he was top dog.
“But going into the gate for the Mile, Wise Dan was the only horse I’ve seen that would look Hunters Bay in the eye and not look away. Never mind look him in the eye, it was like a parallel of sorts where maybe Wise Dan was the one who always did that and he looked at Hunters Bay as if to say, ‘Who do you think you are to look at me?’”
Settled into third position down the backstretch of Woodbine’s unique one-turn mile, Wise Dan waited patiently for the signal from Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. When the pilot shook the reins late in the turn, Wise Dan exploded past pacesetters Worthadd and Artic Fern to open up a two-length lead.
Wilson, a flurry of activity, pointed her charge at Wise Dan and took dead aim at greatness.
“We were closing ground on him, but let’s be honest, Johnny V was barely asking Wise Dan to run. I was gaining and gaining and my horse ran a game second, but Wise Dan was brilliant,” said Wilson.
In 2013, Wise Dan returned to Woodbine for an encore performance and again proved indomitable on Canadian soil by lowering the course record to 1:31.75 with a scintillating effort.
“I compare it to the horse I sat on, Leroidesanimaux, when he won over here, but I always said he was a freak,” said Velazquez following the track-record score. “This one (Wise Dan) is a much bigger freak than the other one. He’s a much better horse, always wins. Horse of the Year, you can’t change that.”
In recent years, Wise Dan has endured a number of setbacks. Last year, a bout with colic put Wise Dan on the sidelines for more than three months but he returned to record a stubborn nose victory in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Bernard Baruch and completed his 2014 campaign with a victory in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile.
An ankle injury in the aftermath of the Shadwell score sent Wise Dan back to the hospital and in September, just days away from making another remarkable comeback in the Woodbine Mile, a torn tendon, unrelated to his ankle injury, brought his career to an end.
“It’s been a pleasure to watch him over the past few years, through all the ups and downs, and to rise back up to the calibre of horse that he is,” said Wilson. “It’s not only a testament to the horse, but to his coach, Charlie LoPresti. I think that’s something to be respected. He’ll be missed. I really missed him here this year for the Mile.”
Retired, but certainly not forgotten, Wise Dan’s name is not only forever etched in the hearts and minds of Canadian racing fans, but in the record books as well as the fastest turf miler in track history and only two-time winner of the Woodbine Mile.