Wise Dan, U.S. racing's horse of the year and the 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile champion, returns to defend his title in the prestigious turf event Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack. The multiple Eclipse Award winner looks to improve to 5-0 this year and extend his impressive win streak to nine straight races overall.
"It's not like he's a stallion and we're trying to prove anything as far as breeding or standing him at stud," said trainer Charlie LoPresti. "We just want to put him in places where we can keep him undefeated and we can enjoy him."
If the field remains at six, it would be the smallest in race history, eclipsing the current mark of eight in '08. But that wouldn't bother LoPresti, who says running at Woodbine makes good sense for his horse.
"He liked it there, he liked the turf," he said. "He galloped over it well.
"I think he's coming into this race as good as he was last year. I think he's in top form. This is the time of year he really gets good."
Jockey John Velazquez — who has won this event a record three times (2000, '05, '12) — will ride Wise Dan. A successful title defence would earn Wise Dan a berth in the Breeders Cup Mile to also defend that crown Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
Four favourites have won this race, including Wise Dan last year.
LoPresti is 2-0 at Woodbine, having also won the 2011 Mile with Turallure. A win Sunday would move him into a tie with Neil Drysdale and Robert Frankel for most victories by a trainer.
American-breds have dominated this event, having won the Mile on a record seven occasions. Canadian horses have finished first four times, the last being Rahy's Attorney in 2008.
LoPresti said Wise Dan will leave Kentucky on Thursday night and is expected to arrive at Woodbine sometime Friday morning. And the defending champion will have an easy schedule once he gets settled at the Toronto oval.
"Maybe we'll take him over to the paddock and school him and he'll have a gallop day, probably (Saturday) like he did last year," LoPresti said.
The six-year-old gelding was an impressive 3 1/4-length winner in last year's Mile, the second-largest margin of victory behind Leroidesanimaux's 7 3/4-length win in 2005.
Wise Dan won five of six starts — all graded events — for over $2.6 million in earnings in 2012. In addition to being named U.S. racing's top horse, Wise Dan also received champion older male and champion male turf horse honours.
He became the first horse to win all three awards since John Henry in 1981. Overall, Wise Dan — owned and bred by American Morton Fink — has won 17 of 24 career starts for over $4.46 million in earnings.
The draw for the Mile will be held Thursday at Woodbine, with former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Devon White serving as honorary drawmaster. Wise Dan will be installed as the prohibitive favourite for Sunday's race.
The projected field also includes American-based horses Dimension and Za Approval, British-based Trade Storm and Woodbine-based Excaper and Riding the River.
Dimension, a British-bred horse based in Kentucky, returns to Woodbine for the third time this season. He won the $201,600 Grade II Play the King Stakes on Aug. 25 and will try to become the first horse since Soaring Free in 2004 to also win the Mile.
"David (jockey David Moran) said after the race (Play the King) that he's a very uncomplicated horse," said trainer and co-owner Conor Murphy. "He doesn't need to make the running.
"He can be happy to sit in behind horses. It's good to have that versatility."
Murphy admits Wise Dan is the class of the Mile field and says there's plenty to like about him. But predictably, Murphy stopped well short of conceding the race to the defending champion.
"There's no doubt about it, Wise Dan is a great horse," said Murphy. "You have to admire him but you can't be afraid of one horse.
"You could make a case for any of them."
Excaper was second to Dimension in the Play the King Stakes. He's scheduled to make just his third start of the year Sunday but will look for a second win. Luis Contreras, who rode Excaper to victory in his season debut, will return for the Mile.
Trainer Ian Black looks for his second Mile win, earning the '08 event with 12-1 longshot Rahy's Attorney.
Canadian-owned Riding the River gets a second shot at Wise Dan after finishing fourth in last year's Mile. Veteran jockey Todd Kabel, who won the "04 Mile aboard Soaring Free, gets the mount as Riding the River makes a third straight appearance in this event.