TORONTO - It's still a horse race and because of that, anything can happen. That's why trainer Conor Murphy is putting 10-1 longshot Dimension up against prohibitive favourite Wise Dan in the $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
"Wise Dan is the best horse in North America, probably could be the best miler in the world," Murphy said Thursday after the race draw at Woodbine Racetrack. "He is at the moment ... he's the horse to beat no question.
"Realistically, the other five are running for second behind Wise Dan because he hasn't looked close to being beat this year. It will be tough against him but you can't be afraid of one horse because horses are like people, they're prone to have a bad day sometime."
The race winner nets $600,000 and a berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. But the $200,000 runner-up cheque would remove some of the sting of finishing second.
Wise Dan, a six-year-old gelding, is the overwhelming 2-5 early favourite for the prestigious turf event Sunday at Woodbine, and for good reason. The multiple Eclipse Award winner is unbeaten in four starts this year and looking for a ninth straight victory.
The 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile winner is also U.S. racing's reigning horse of the year. A win Sunday would make Wise Dan this event's only two-time winner after he claimed a comfortable 3 1/4-length victory over Hunters Bay in last year's event as the 1-2 choice.
It would also be a third straight Mile victory for trainer Charles LoPresti, who won in 2011 with Turallure, and moved him into a tie with Neil Drysdale and Bobby Frankel for most wins. But LoPresti isn't feeling any pressure heading into Sunday's race.
"We're just trying to do the best job we can with him and go race by race and hopefully he comes out of each race good," he said. "I really don't feel that much pressure on me.
"He has accomplished a lot. I don't want him to get beat but we're just going to try to do the best we can and he's doing really well right now. I think he's going to run a very good race."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, a record three-time Mile winner including last year aboard Wise Dan, again gets the mount. Wise Dan has proven to be a versatile performer, having amassed over $4.4 million in earnings with victories on dirt, turf and Polytrack.
"I just think he's an incredibly fast horse and he's very versatile in what he does," LoPresti said. "Everything comes real easy to him.
"He can just about handle any surface you can run him on and I think that's what makes him special."
Sunday's field, with post, horse, jockey and odds includes: 1) Riding the River, Todd Kabel, 15-1; 2) Excaper, Luis Contreras, 12-1; 3) Trade Storm, Gary Stevens, 8-1; 4) Wise Dan, Velazquez, 2-5; 5) Dimension, David Moran, 10-1; and 6) Za Approval, Garrett Gomez, 4-1.
Also on Sunday's card is the $300,000 Northern Dancer, a 1 1/2-mile turf event, and $300,000 Canadian Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race on grass for fillies and mares.
Wise Dan is expected to arrive at Woodbine on Friday. The horse last ran Aug. 10 when he earned a 1 1/4-length win in the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga, a mile-long turf event. LoPresti isn't concerned about the trip taking a lot out of Wise Dan.
"He's always been a really good shipper," he said. "When we brought him up here last year, he made a few passes around the stall and went to sleep.
"For the Breeders' Cup, he got in there a day or so later than he needed to but he handled the shipping well. Nothing seems to upset him."
Dimension makes his third trip to Woodbine from Kentucky 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 '04 to also win the Mile.
But Murphy said his horse will need a firm turf to make that happen and register the huge upset.
"The faster the better," he said. "Sunday is looking hit and miss for rain, I'm just hoping it stays dry.
"To be his best he needs good, firm ground."
Za Approval's handlers are also hoping for a firm surface. Gomez will be aboard for the first time but the veteran jockey certainly knows how to win at Woodbine. He captured the '07 Mile aboard Shakespeare and returned to the winner's circle two years later with Ventura.
"We think he’s a very good horse but he's a lot more effective on firm turf,'' said assistant trainer Christope Lorieul. "I'm not sure we can beat Wise Dan ... but we'll take him on and see what happens. Our horse is doing very well."
Woodbine-based Excaper and Riding the River will carry Canadian hopes Sunday.
Excaper was second to Dimension in the Play the King Stakes. He'll make just his third start this year but chase a second win. Luis Contreras, who rode Excaper to victory in his season debut, returns for the Mile.
Trainer Ian Black looks for his second Mile win, claiming 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. Kabel, who rode Soaring Free in '04, will be aboard as Riding the River makes a third straight Mile appearance.