SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – When he ran in the Fourstardave Handicap last year, Wise Dan was coming off a loss, had not raced on turf in 10 months, and at 119 pounds was in receipt of a pound from the 2010 Fourstardave winner, Get Stormy.
When he runs in Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, Wise Dan comes in as the reigning Horse of the Year, riding a seven-race winning streak that began with his five-length win in this race last year, and at 129 pounds will be spotting his six rivals from 11 to 14 pounds.
What a difference a year makes.
As far as trainer Charlie LoPresti is concerned, 6-year-old Wise Dan is “every bit as good” as the 5-year-old Wise Dan. Wise Dan is the first reigning Horse of the Year to run at Saratoga since Curlin won the 2008 Woodward.
“He’s had three races now and he comes up here and he works like he does,” said LoPresti, referring to a five-furlong work on July 27 in 57.37 seconds over the Oklahoma turf. “If you didn’t know him and you just saw him, he’s not that impressive. Until you watch him train. He gets out there he’s all business.”
Business has been good for Wise Dan, who began the year with victories in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill – both Grade 1 races. On June 29, Wise Dan overcame a torrential rainstorm which turned the turf course into green dirt when he won the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill.
When he won the one-mile Fourstardave here last year, the turf course was rated as yielding from day-long rains. There was rain in the forecast for Friday, which could take some sting out of a pretty firm Saratoga grass course.
“I hope we get more cut to the ground,” LoPresti said. “I think it would play a little bit more to a closing style instead of somebody getting on the front end galloping along there. I would like to see it a little softer. It doesn’t have to be a bog.”
Soft turf, breaking from the rail, weight – LoPresti isn’t going into the race thinking any of it will be an excuse.
“I’m looking for him to win,” LoPresti said.
John Velazquez, who is 6 for 7 on Wise Dan, rides.
When he evaluates Wise Dan’s six rivals, LoPresti views New York-bred King Kreesa as the major threat. A 4-year-old son of King Cugat, King Kreesa is coming off back-to-back stakes wins, including a 1 1/2-length score in the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont on July 4.
King Kreesa carries 117 pounds and could play out as the primary speed under Irad Ortiz Jr.
“Horses like that are dangerous,” LoPresti said.
Jeremiah Englehart, the trainer of King Kreesa, said he was honored to hear of LoPresti’s evaluation. Englehart said he knows his horse is the one to catch.
“One thing nice about our running style is everybody has to come and get us,” said Englehart, who is seeking his first career win at Saratoga. “You’re winning for most of the race. I’ve seen Wise Dan a few times, he looks great, I’m expecting him to run his race. We’ll see.”
Lea finished second to Wise Dan in the Firecracker and is 2 for 2 at Saratoga, where trainer Al Stall believes the horse thrives.
“All that has to do with liking the environment besides what’s under foot,” Stall said. “I think he did well here last year on a day-to-day basis, I think he’s done well this year here on a day-to-day basis.”
Za Approval returns to New York after finishing second to Obviously in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Trainer Christophe Clement on Thursday expressed some concern over the possibility of less than firm turf.
“Everything is great – the weather is a concern,” Clement said. “He ran one bad race in his life on off turf.”
Mr. Commons, third to Wise Dan in the Maker’s 46 Mile, had a better-than-it-looks trip when fifth in an allowance race here on Aug. 10.
Skyring, winner of the Grade 2 Dixie at nine furlong two starts back, cuts back to a mile. He was beaten 4 1/4 lengths by Wise Dan in the Maker’s 46 Mile. Willyconker, claimed for $62,500, completes the field.
The Fourstardave will be televised live on NBC in a one-hour broadcast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.