TORONTO - Wise Dan dominated the Grade 1 $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile on Sunday.
The five-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding went off as the prohibitive 1/2 favourite and then showed why. He sat third through the opening half-mile, then surged into the lead before blowing away the field with an emphatic 3 1/4-length victory on a firm E.P Taylor turf course at Woodbine Racetrack.
Wise Dan posted a winning time of 1:34.07 to earn the $600,000 winner's share with the second-largest margin of victory in race history. Only Leroidesanimaux's 7 3/4-length victory in '05 was more dominant.
"I was a little worried being that close to the lead," said winning trainer Charles Lopresti. "And when he made the lead I was thinking, 'It's a really long stretch,' but he kept running.
"I don't think horses make the lead that early and just keep going the way he did. He has a high cruising speed and his action is so good that he just really moves well."
But Wise Dan certainly didn't have the look of a champion hours earlier.
"I went in there late this afternoon to take his temperature and he was standing there with his head over the webbing and asleep," said Lopresti. "He's that way.
"He used to be really tough when he was a young horse and was tough to gallop. But he has got better with age. He knows what he's here to do."
Wise Dan became only the fourth favourite to win the Woodbine Mile in its 16 editions, joining Soaring Free (2004), Leroidesanimaux (2005) and Shakespeare in 2007. And it was a record-setting performance as Lopresti became the first trainer to win consecutive races while jockey John Velazquez won this event for a record third time.
And the superstitious Lopresti watched Sunday's race wearing the same shirt and tie he sported last year when Turallure won.
"Is that right? Oh well," Lopresti said when informed of his record-setting achievement. "Don't ask me if I can do it a third.
"I hope to be coming back. This is an awful nice place . . . it's a great facility. The turf is real good. That's one reason why I like to come here, it's one of the best turf courses (in North America). Horses come off this turf really good."
The win was Wise Dan's third in four starts this year and 11th in 18 career races. He's also on a nice roll, having won four of his last five races, with the non-win being a second-place finish by a head.
"What a nice horse," Velazquez said. "For a horse to do this race after race and come back the way he does is incredible.
"He's allowing me to get him back a little bit and get him relaxed behind the horses. When he does that he is a much better horse."
Hunters Bay, a 13-1 longshot owned by Stronach Stables and ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson of Brampton, Ont., was a respectable second in his first-ever turf event. British-bred Cityscape took third in the nine-horse field.
Wilson had Hunters Bay sitting seventh through a half-mile but moved into third down the stretch before catching Cityscape for second.
"I didn't think there would be a problem,' Wilson said of Hunters Bay's first trip on turf. "He handled it and ran like a true champ.
"I saw Johnny V sitting so quiet on Wise Dan. I thought we'd have a tough time to catch him but (Hunters Bay) gave it everything he could."
The second-place finish capped a memorable day for the 31-year-old Wilson, who won the '07 Queen's Plate aboard Mike Fox. Earlier, she earned her 1,000th career victory aboard D'wildcat Gold in the first race on the Woodbine card.
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, include: Riding the River; Dance and Dance; Big Band Sound; Worthadd; Hollinger; and Artic Fern.
Wise Dan paid $3.10, $2.70 and $2.10 while Hunters Bay returned $6.30 and $4.40. Cityscape paid $2.90.
With the win, Wise Dan receives an all-expenses paid berth into the Breeders' Cup Mile, which will be run Nov. 3 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. Trouble is, Wise Dan is a very versatile horse who has won stakes races on dirt, turf and Polytrack for career earnings of about $2 million.
Lopresti said he, Velazquez and owner Morton Fink will discuss whether to run Wise Dan in the Mile or Breeders' Cup Classic. But Lopresti said they're leaning towards the Mile because it's a distance the horse runs well and the race is on grass whereas the Classic covers 1 1/4 miles and goes on dirt, a surface Wise Dan has had struggles on.
"It is nice to have choices," Lopresti said. "And if (Breeders' Cup Classic) was on synthetic, maybe we would think about it.
"We'll have to wait and see. In my heart I believe he's better on grass and synthetic, just to watch him train and the way he travels over it."
Also on Sunday, David Moran rode Irish-bred Barefoot Lady to the win in the $300,000 Canadian Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile turf event. The 7-1 pick won the race in 1:45.89, finishing ahead of All Star Heart and Stars to Shine.
Jamie Spencer rode Wigmore Hall, another Irish-bred, to a successful title defence in the $500,000 Northern Dancer Stakes, running the 1 1/2-mile turf race in 2:28.28. Al Khali was second in the eight-horse field while British-bred Forte Dei Marmi was third.