The well-regarded Wise Dan is expected to go to post as the favourite in Sunday's Grade 1, $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
The Charles Lopresti trainee arrives at the Mile off a spectacular five-length score, engineered by John Velazquez, in the one-mile Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga, over a yielding turf course, a race Lopresti wasn’t sure he had won at the top of the lane.
“Around the turn, I thought maybe he was backing off of it a little bit and those other horses were going to kick on and he wasn't going to kick on,” said Lopresti. “But, when he came back, Johnny (Velazquez) said, ‘I bet you were about to kill me around the turn down the backside' and I said, 'Yeah, I didn't know what was going on.' He said, 'That was just me taking him back, I wanted him to make one run.’”
The five-year-old gelding has come a long way since his February 26, 2010 debut when fifth in an $18,000 maiden special weight at Turfway Park. The poor result surprised Lopresti.
“I liked him from way before the first time we ran him,” admitted Lopresti. “He'd been showing brilliance in the morning. I really thought he would win first time out and I was a little disappointed that he didn't, but then we brought him back and he broke his maiden by 15 lengths and the rest was history.”
Although a graded winner on multiple surfaces, Lopresti might still be a bit undecided which ground suits his star pupil best.
“I do think he is better on synthetic and grass but he's pretty good on the dirt as well...and an off track,” said Lopresti, of the talented gelding.
Lopresti, who won the Mile last year with Turallure, hopes that Velazquez, recently inducted into the U.S. Horse Racing Hall of Fame, can continue his recent good form at Woodbine, which includes a memorable win in the E.P. Taylor, last year, with Miss Keller.
CANADIAN RACING FANS HAVE SOMETHING TO ROOT FOR IN ARTIC FERN
Two years ago, Artic Fern was a hot prospect on the Queen’s Plate trail, until injury derailed his chances to contest the ‘Gallop for the Guineas.’ But the seven-time winner from 16 starts hasn’t wilted over time, making a winning return to the races in 2011, and now, into this year’s Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile picture.
On April 17, 2010, the dark bay, who was listed at 250-1 in the Queen’s Plate Winterbook, took his six-furlong Polytrack race by 1 ½ lengths, at 10-1, following it up with a 2 ¼-length score at 1 1/16 miles on May 23, duplicating that margin of victory at the same distance June 5.
With all systems go and a legitimate shot at Queen’s Plate glory in his sights, a shoulder injury in the days leading up to the race sent him to the sidelines for the rest of the campaign.
“It was one of the most disappointing days in my career,” said trainer Mike Keogh, of Artic Fern’s absence from the Plate. “There was no way we could have run him. But I knew we would get him back. It was just a question of taking our time and getting him right.”
Bred and owned by Gus Schickedanz, five-year-old Artic Fern will look to deliver the Hall of Fame owner his first Mile victory.
Jockey Justin Stein, who partnered Strait of Dover to victory in this year’s Queen’s Plate, will ride the son of champion Langfuhr on Sunday.
THE SCORE TO AIR RICOH WOODBINE MILE
The 16th edition of the Ricoh Woodbine Mile is slated to go postward at 5:42 pm ET. The Score will provide special two-hour live coverage of the racing extravaganza from Woodbine from 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm ET.
Jason Portuondo will host the telecast with Gemini Award recipient Jim Bannon providing the analysis. Sandy Hawley and Renee Kierans are the on-track reporters. Rob Platts is the producer and Matt Taylor is the director. Dan Loiselle will call the action.
TVG, the prominent U.S. horse racing channel, will also offer coverage with Simon Bray reporting.
Features scheduled for the telecast include a piece on Northern Dancer's bloodline influence on Frankel; a look at trainer Dan Vella and a personal take on how former Mile winners Turallure and Court Vision affected a horseplayer.
A bonus edition of the popular Bet Night Live contests that run normally on Mondays (Standardbred) and Wednesdays (Thoroughbred) will be included for the three races within the two-hour broadcast. As usual, $1,000 will be up for grabs, along with an opportunity to qualify to play later this year for the Bet Night Live Grand Prize, a trip to Las Vegas and $10,000.