They saved the best for last. As the sun began to skip below the majestic San Gabriel Mountains, a pair of colts produced by Pennsylvania-based stallions stole the show on racing’s grandest days.
In the performance of his life, Fort Larned grabbed the lead out of the gate and bravely held off Mucho Macho Man in a scintillating stretch drive to prevail in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup classic by a half-length. It was another 6 1/2 lengths back to Flat Out in third in the 1 1/4-mile race at Santa Anita Park. Fort Larned earned a sensational 117 Beyer speed figure.
A four-year old son of E Dubai at Northview Stallion Station in Beach Bottom, Pa., Fort Larned is trained by Churchill Downs based Ian Wilkes. His dam Arlucea is a daughter of Bayakoa, a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (now Ladies' Classic) who raced for Fort Larned’s owner Janis Whitam and her late husband, Frank.
Wise Dan capped a remarkable 2012 season with a powerful win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile where he defeated a field considered among the best on the Breeders' Cup card. The 5-year-old chestnut gelding stamped himself as the likely favorite for 2012 Horse of the Year honors. He is a son of Wiseman Ferry who is based at Dana Point Farm in Lenhartsville, Pa. Under a perfect ride from John Velazquez, Wise Dan beat fast-closing Animal Kingdom by 1 1/2 lengths in the $2 million Mile. He blistered the turf course in a 1:31.78, lowering the track record of 1:31.89 set by Atticus in 1989 while carrying nine pounds more.
Wise Dan collared Obviously about a furlong from the finish and rolled to victory, running his final quarter-mile in less than 23 seconds.
Behind Wise Dan, things went less smoothly for 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who was steadied in traffic at the top of the stretch. Once clear, he finished with a furious rally, beating Obviously for second by a half-length while trying to reel in Wise Dan.
The two-day, world championship which featured 15 races and $25 million in purses, saw the Breeders’ Cup Classic televised in prime time for the first time. It also spotlighted former Chester County steeplechase rider and Delaware Park jockey Rosie Napravnik join Julie Krone as the only female jockeys to win a Breeders’ cup race when she piloted favorite Shanghai Bobby to a head victory over He’s Had enough in the $2 million BC Juvenile.
Trainer Wilkes hopes to return with Fort Larned to Santa Anita Park next fall for the 30th World Championships in 2013. The trainer said that because of the way the track played and the colt's running style, he wanted jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. to keep Fort Larned close to the lead. After setting a swift pace, Fort Larned went all out to hold off Mucho Macho Man, who dogged him throughout.
Wilkes said he thought heavy favorite Game On Dude, who had been 5 for 5 at Santa Anita, might be vulnerable when he was unable to hold on to win last year's Classic that ran in a slow 2:041/5 at Churchill Downs. "I just thought he was suspect at a mile and a quarter," Wilkes noted.
Fort Larned is going to get a break and then go to Gulfstream Park for the winter.
Wise Dan’s first trip to southern California was delayed by one day by Superstorm Sandy, but he arrived three days before his race without incident and trained briskly. In the paddock and saddling ring before the Mile, Wise Dan looked spectacular and was relaxed and poised. When he hit the track Wise Dan ran to his looks.
Morton Fink's homebred gelding trained by Charles Lopresti, ran past pacesetting Obviously in the stretch and broke a 15-year-old track record with a time 1:31.78. Among Wise Dan’s victims were fourth-place Excelebration and eighth-place Moonlight Cloud, the two best milers in Europe. With Frankel retired, Wise Dan is the best grass miler in the world at the moment.
"I just wanted to get him in the right position," said jockey John Velazquez said. "When I was able to do that, and you've got a horse as good as this, you can expect a result like this."
"He proved he was the best horse today. I never had any doubts," added Lopresti. "I was just a little concerned about how the race would shape up. He's just a special horse."
Among those routing loudest every time Wise Dan hits the track is the gang from Dana Point Farm in Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania. The farm is home to Wise Dan’s sire, Wiseman’s Ferry who has routinely been among the state’s leading stallions since relocating from Castleton Lyons to Dana Point in 2009.
The son of Hennessy may just have produced the 2012 Horse of the Year, a top class runner that can dominate on any surface.
“There are many people who are very supportive of (Wise Dan) with the emails and congratulations to us, like we own him,” said Dana Point manager Vorhauer, who was visiting Wise Dan for the first time on Wednesday. “But we feel like he’s our horse because I think he’s going to put Wiseman’s Ferry on the map. I feel that it’s going to take it to a different level for us.”
The 5-year-old chestnut gelding stamped himself as the likely turf champion and the top older horse of 2012. Horse of The Year should follow. Were it not for a loss by a head to Ron the Greek in the Grade I Stephen Foster, Wise Dan would be six-for-six this year, having won four straight including three consecutive Grade I triumphs. The Morton Fink homebred has won graded stakes races whether they are contested on a dirt track, the turf course, or an artificial surface.
With over $1 million in earnings, Wise Dan can trace his bloodlines back to 1973 Triple Crown winner and two-time Horse of the Year Secretariat, who is the grandsire of Lisa Danielle. She was also owned and campaigned by Fink.
"He has so much raw talent, people don't even realize how much talent he has," remarked trainer Lopresti, who finished second in the Mile by a nose last year with Grade I winner Turallure. "Every time I work him or do something with him, I see something different, something more exciting. I mean, how much faster can you run than that? I don't think they run faster than that.
"Horses like this take you places you've never been."
Plans for 5-year-old Wise Dan include spending the winter at the Lopresti farm where the gelding spent the winter the past two years before returning to the races the following April at Keeneland.
"He will probably get 45 to 60 days at the farm, but it is up to him," Amy Lopresti said of Wise Dan. "Charlie won’t get in a big hurry with him because the goal is to have the horse at his best toward the mid- to late-summer and the fall for the big races."
Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International's Animal Kingdom, the champion 3-year-old in 2011, was making his first start since February 18 when he suffered a pelvic injury. That is a layoff of 259 days without a visit to a racetrack. Trainer Graham Motion decided to run him in the Mile without a prep race. Animal Kingdom trained on the Tapeta synthetic track and steeplechase course at the Fair Hill Training Center.
"I thought about this back in May and Barry and I talked about it," Motion related. “Then as we got closer to the race I started to think maybe it was a little crazy, but Barry reassured me that we were OK. He's a very special horse and I think he showed it today.”
The 4-year-old colt by Leroidesanimaux had a troubled trip but persevered under jockey Rafael Bejarano and exploded in the last furlong to power past several horses to finish runner-up.
"Seconds are tough. I've had some tough beats in the Breeders' Cup," Motion related. "This is one of them. I'm thrilled with the way he ran. If he doesn't get steadied at the top of the stretch, maybe it makes a difference. "What a great run. What a great horse. What a special horse."