To look at his chestnut frame now – well muscled and bright - one would have no idea the angst that was cultivating inside Wise Dan in mid-May and the fear that sat in his connections’ throats.
There are no outward reminders that the two-time defending Horse of the Year lay on an operating table at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital on May 16 undergoing emergency colic surgery. And watching the 7-year-old champion gelding gallop on the Keeneland training track Tuesday morning, trainer Charlie LoPresti sees no reason why his charge won’t soon resume his superior on-track exploits.
Given what transpired weeks earlier, LoPresti is quick to point out such triumphs aren’t even his main hope for his stable star anymore.
“I’m fine with whatever happens as long as he doesn’t colic again,” LoPresti said from his Keeneland barn. “When I led him in that surgery and they laid him down on that table I thought maybe we’ll never see him again, who knew. So just to have him here is a plus.”
Remarkable as the six-time Eclipse Award winner has been on the track, Wise Dan has continued to dazzle in his recovery from colic surgery as he remains on pace to make a likely return to the races in the Grade II Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga Race Course on August 9.
Morton Fink’s homebred gelding has been ahead of schedule in his recovery and has been back at Keeneland since June 23 after initially recuperating on LoPresti’s Lexington-based farm. Should his progression continue as it has, LoPresti said Wise Dan would likely breeze over Keeneland’s training track before he gets set to ship out to Saratoga sometime around July 12.
“It’s not going to be too much longer before he’s going to have a little breeze,” LoPresti said. “Every day, we’re just picking it up a little more. I’m trying to get him as fit as I can without really pressing on him too much.”
Wise Dan has captured the last two editions of the Fourstardave and began his 2014 campaign with victories in the Grade I Maker’s 46 Mile and Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic before undergoing colic surgery.
No portion of Wise Dan’s bowel had to be resected during the surgery, however, and he has been free from spiking a temperature or being felled by any other infection.
“There is a very good chance (of running in the Fourstardave) from what I see,” LoPresti said. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t make Saratoga. I wouldn’t have to be pushing him, If you look at his win in the Firecracker last year, I don’t think I breezed him but one time from the Firecracker to the Fourstardave. With that being said if I breezed him here before I left and had a chance to get three breezes in at Saratoga, it’s not until August.
“And it depends on the weight,” LoPresti continued. “I already talked to the racing secretary and said I’m not lobbying not to put weight on him but he did go through colic surgery will you take that into consideration. But if ever they were going to take a crack at him now’s the time after colic surgery.”
With Wise Dan’s older half brother Successful Dan, himself a multiple graded stakes winner, recently retired due to lingering ligament issues, LoPresti is hoping some others in his barn step up to help carry the load. Villandry, a well-closing fourth in the Grade II Firecracker at Churchill Downs this past Saturday, could also be possible for the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at Aug. 30 at Saratoga – a spot LoPresti is also looking at as a back up plan for Wise Dan’s return.
“I kind of hope Villandry will carry the torch. But I’ve got some other nice horses too,” LoPresti said. “I have to concentrate on some of my younger horses. You can’t depend on Wise Dan all the time, someone else has to step up at some point.”