Two-time Horse of the Year and defending winner Wise Dan is the brightest name on an international roster of 90 early nominations to the 28th running of the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Grade I) on the Kentucky Derby Day undercard on Saturday, May 3 at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/8-mile contest for 4-year-olds and up on the Matt Winn Turf Course is traditionally run immediately prior to the running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI). It has become one of the most important grass races in the United States since Eclipse Award turf champion Manila won its inaugural running in 1986.
The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is part of a spectacular Derby Day racing card that features three Grade I races topped by the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. Total purses for the six stakes races total $3,750,000.
Owned and bred by Mort Fink and trained by Charlie LoPresti, Wise Dan sailed to a 4 ¾-length victory over yielding turf in the 2013 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, an early highlight in a seven-race campaign that earned the son of Wiseman’s Ferry a second consecutive Eclipse Award that honored him as Horse of the Year. Wise Dan was also honored as America’s best turf horse and top older horse.
Wise Dan completed the year a perfect six-for-six in stakes events on grass and concluded the season with his second straight triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) at Santa Anita. His only loss was a runner-up finish in the Shadwell Turf Mile (GI) at Keeneland, a race moved from the Lexington, Ky. track’s grass to synthetic Polytrack because of heavy rain.
The 7-year-old gelding’s record over the past two years is 11-2-0 in 13 races. As he enters a planned 2014 campaign, Wise Dan’s career record stands at 19-2-0 in 27 races with earnings of $6,293,610.
Wise Dan is one of four Woodford Reserve nominees trained by Lopresti. Others made eligible for the race include Fink’s Successful Dan, Wise Dan’s 8-year-old half-brother who won Keeneland’s Ben Ali (GIII) in 2013; Elisabeth Alexander’s Set the Sail, runner-up in Churchill Downs’ River City Handicap (GIII) and Gainesway Stable’s homebred Villandry.
Wise Dan is one of two winners of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic included on this year’s list of nominees. Priscilla Vaccarezza’s Little Mike won its 2012 running during a campaign for trainer Dale Romans in which he also won the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) and the Arlington Million (GI). The seven-year-old son of Spanish Step, now trained by Carlo Vaccarezza, won last year’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (GI), his only victory in seven 2013 races. Little Mike will enter 2014 with a career record of 28-13-2-1 with earnings of $3,483,012.
The roster of Woodford Reserve Turf Classic nominees also includes a pair of stars from last year’s division of 3-year-old stars in Willis D. Horton’s Will Take Charge and Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice. Will Take Charge mounted a second-half rally for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas that included a near-miss runner-up finish to Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita and a season-ending triumph in Churchill Downs’ Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) that clinched the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old. Palace Malice, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the Belmont Stakes (GI), defeating Kentucky Derby champ Orb and Preakness (GI) winner Oxbow in the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Neither horse has run on grass.
Trainer Mike Maker, based at Churchill Downs’ Trackside Training Center, led all trainers with nine Woodford Reserve nominees. The Maker contingent is headed by Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Secretariat (GI) winner Admiral Kitten and Scarlet Stable’s King David, winner of the 2012 Jamaica (GI) at Belmont Park. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and six-time Eclipse Award winner Pletcher each nominated six horses to the Woodford Reserve, while Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey made six of his horses eligible to compete in the race.
Five of Maker’s nominees are owned by the Ramseys, who earned Eclipse Award honors in 2013 as the top owners and breeders in the U.S. The Nicholasville, Ky. couple nominated seven horses overall, with their brightest stars being Real Solution, the Chad Brown-trained winner of the 2013 Arlington Million (GI), and Admiral Kitten. Juddmonte Farms nominated four horses, all trained by Mott.
Other early nominees include Live Oak Plantation’s Za Approval, runner-up to Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile for trainer Christophe Clement; Crossed Sabres Farm’s Lochte, a 39-1 longsot winner of the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (GI); the Neil Drysdale-trained duo of Pandora Stud’s Hollywood Turf Cup (GIII) winner Lucayan (FR) and Winning Prize (ARG), winner of the Arcadia (GII); Godolphin’s Alpha, winner of the 2013 Woodward (GI) and a dead-heat winner of the 2012 Travers (GI); the Mott-trained Amira’s Prince (IRE), winner of the Mervin Muniz Handicap (GII) at Fair Grounds and the Mac Diarmida (GII) at Gulfstream Park; Man O’ War (GI) winner Boisterous, now trained by Pletcher; Daddy Nose Best, winner of the Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap (GIII) at Fair Grounds; Michael Bruder’s Guys Reward, winner of the 2012 Firecracker (GII) at Churchill Downs and the recent Tampa Bay Handicap (GIII) for Romans; Phipps Stable’s Red Smith (GIII) winner Imagining and Canadian Turf (GIII) winner Reload; Maribel Rulas’ Potomac River, upset winner of the 2013 River City (GIII) at Churchill Downs and the recent Fair Grounds Handicap (GIII) at Fair Grounds; Calumet Farm’s three-time graded stakes winner Optimizer; Werheimer and Frere’s Citation (GII) winner Silentio; Mark Bacon and Dana Wells’ Silver Max, who handed Wise Dan his only defeat of 2013 in the Shadwell Turf Mile over Polytrack at Keeneland and also won Saratoga’s Bernard Baruch (GII) on turf; Lael Stable and All In Stables’ Washington Park Handicap (GIII) winner Willcox Inn and Hronis Racing’s Vagabond Shoes (IRE), winner of the recent San Marcos (GII) for trainer John Sadler.
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic nominees based outside of the United States include Sam-Son Farm’s Up With the Birds, winner of the 2013 Jamaica at Belmont Park and the Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine; Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien’s duo of Afonso de Sousa and Cristoforo Colombo, both owned by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Susan Magnier; the Mikel Delzangles-trained duo of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Thani’s Flotilla (FR) and Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani’s Mshawish; and the Jeremy Noseda-trained Grandeur (IRE).
A late nomination phase for the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is now underway. Those nominations must be accompanied by a $1,000 fee and must be submitted before the late nomination deadline of 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, April 9. Supplemental nominations to the race can be made at the time of entry on Wednesday, April 30, and each requires the payment of a $15,000 fee. The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is limited to 14 starters, with two also-eligible entrants.
Along with the victory by reigning turf champion Manila in the first Woodford Reserve Turf Classic in 1986 and last year’s triumph by Horse of the Year and multiple Eclipse Award winner Wise Dan, other American turf champions that have competed in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Paradise Creek, winner of the Turf Classic during his 1994 championship campaign, and 1992 Eclipse Award turf champion Sky Classic, runner-up to Cudas in that year’s Turf Classic renewal.
Should Wise Dan compete in the 2014 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, he would attempt to become only the second two-time winner of the race. Einstein (BRZ), who took the 2008 and 2009 renewals of the race, is its only two-time winner. The versatile Brazilian-bred son of 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck was a finalist for the Eclipse Award for top older male in each of those years and one of three finalists for turf champion in 2008.