Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year, makes his third start of the season Saturday in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs. He has already won two Grade 1 stakes — the Makers 46 Mile and the Turf Classic — so this should be an easier task.
Wise Dan is the starting highweight of 128 pounds. As a 2-5 odds morning-line favorite, he is conceding 11 to 15 pounds to seven foes.
This is the kind of setup where a show plunger might take a shot at Wise Dan. A show plunger, also known as a bridgejumper, makes a huge show bet on a heavy favorite.
I personally don’t suggest this bet. The payoff is usually a paltry $2.10. One miss and the horseplayer must cash 20 times at $2.10 to catch up. But I digress.
Wise Dan is a horse that racing needs to promote even more so. He is a 6-year-old gelding and that kind of longevity for a superstar is rare nowadays.
His trainer, Charles Lopresti, is not afraid to travel, with Wise Dan winning stakes at six tracks: Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Presque Isle Downs, Santa Anita, Saratoga and Woodbine. The champ wins on turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces. I have voted him first in my NTRA Horse of the Year poll for as long as I can remember.
Still, for some reason, others have been critical of Lopresti for his choice of races, particularly this weak Firecracker.
Maybe there’s a little Nick Saban in Lopresti. The Alabama coach won college football’s national championship last season despite scheduling — and beating — a pair of nonconference cupcakes in Western Kentucky and Western Carolina.
Lopresti gets no grief from this corner. Wise Dan will run again in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, God willing. Lopresti will plan a schedule to keep his horse healthy — and hopefully unbeaten — through a yearlong campaign leading up to Nov. 2.
Wise Dan has earned more than $4 million lifetime and with good health will win a lot more. It would be fitting upon retirement for him to join other great geldings such as Kelso, Forego and John Henry.
■ CLAIMING RULE — More than 20 horse claims have been voided since the California Horse Racing Board instituted a new claiming rule May 16. A claim is now voided if, postrace, the horse is placed on the vet’s list, is injured and vanned off, or dies.
Trainer Peter Miller made an impassioned plea against the new rule during a recent CHRB meeting. To paraphrase, Miller said on race day state vets inspect the horses in the morning, in the paddock while saddling, during the prerace warmup, and have one last chance to scratch a horse at the starting gate. Safeguards already are in place to protect the horses before the start of every race.
Miller added there is inherent risk in claiming horses that cannot be legislated out.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.