By Claire Novak for WoodbineEntertainment.com
TORONTO, September 11 - Head out of Lexington on Richmond Road, drive slow through the barely there town of Athens, and you'll find him. Where tidy black fences hem the perimeter of Charlie and Amy LoPresti's Forest Lane Farm, Morton Fink's six-time Eclipse Award winner Wise Dan grazes in the Kentucky twilight.
The seasons have been kind to the 10-year-old gelding since he retired in 2015, days before he was slated to chase a third straight victory in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile. His chestnut coat gleams the color of burnished copper, and he has let down well from the rigors of racing. For amusement he often races his brother, graded stakes winner Successful Dan, across the 17-acre pasture they share. Successful Dan never lets him win.
"They'll both decide, 'Let's go get a drink of water,'" Amy LoPresti said. "They'll start off walking. And then they start trotting. And then they'll lope. And they'll get about halfway up the hill and they'll both just throw up their heads and pin their ears and take off."
"It sounds like thunder," Charlie LoPresti added.
"Successful Dan will let Wise Dan stay with him for a minute, and then he's just gone," Amy finished. "Gone, gone. They're a hoot, those two."
Wise Dan may have nothing left to prove after collecting 23 wins and two seconds from 31 starts, with earnings of $7,552,643 and U.S. Horse of the Year Eclipse Awards from 2012 and 2013 among those in his trophy case. But memories of his brilliant career remain fresh in the hearts of those who watched him run, and his greatest fans have found their way to Forest Lane to visit the two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile.
"People come to see him from all over the place," Amy said. "One woman emailed me over the winter, she was a cancer survivor. She said she and her significant other watched him run, and that's what got her through all of her treatments. They both fell in love with him.
"She said, 'We'd like to come to Kentucky, but we're not going to bother coming to Kentucky unless we can come see him.' I was like, 'Of course you can come!' They flew here all the way from Washington state."
The tendon injury that led to the end of his career - and the old ankle injury sustained in 2014 that caused him to miss a third run at the Breeders' Cup Mile - are relics of the past. Sound and sassy, Wise Dan has lost none of the personality that endeared him to fans across the nation.
"He's nice and polite (to people who come to visit). He just kind of stands there and poses," Amy said. "It's fun for them, because we let them hold him and take a picture with him. You can take a picture, you can hold him, you can pet him, you can kiss him if you want to. It doesn't matter.
"And if he knows you (from his racing days), he remembers you. He knows everybody, and he's different with people he knows."
Wise Dan's visitors from the old days include Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who rode him 13 times, including to his record-setting Breeders' Cup Mile win in 2012, a breakout season for the brilliant gelding.
Versatile Wise Dan was always highly regarded by his connections, and won graded stakes on Polytrack and dirt - including the grade 1 Clark Handicap at the end of 2011 - before solidifying his status as a titan of the turf. But it was the 2012 Woodbine Mile that set him on the streak of top-level grass victories and saw him explode to his first grade 1 victory on the turf.
Favored by the betting public on the merits of a five-length romp in the Fourstardave at Saratoga Race Course, Wise Dan found a seam between horses off the turn and charged through impressively, drawing off down the long Woodbine stretch en route to a 3 1/4-length score.
He paid $3.10 to win, the smallest payoff in the history of the Woodbine Mile. He won five grade 1 races in a row after that, and two grade 2 events, before his 2013 campaign found him back at Woodbine to make history.
"I don't have the right word to tell you how much it means to me," Fink said at the time. "He is a super horse, but he's there because Charlie takes care of him."
The LoPrestis still take excellent care of Wise Dan, as they do all the other horses at Forest Lane Farm. When fans send packages of Mrs Pastures cookies or gifts of carrots and apples, the couple dutifully delivers the goods. When Wise Dan needs his feet trimmed every five to six weeks, Amy hooks up the trailer and drives him down the road to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, where she walks him from surgery to radiology just to visit those who cared for him throughout his career.
Wise Dan received the inaugural Rood & Riddle Comeback Award, given to an equine athlete who overcame a major health complication and returned to elite competition, in 2016 at the Kentucky Horse Park. Rood & Riddle veterinarians performed colic surgery on the champ in 2014, after which he closed out his career with a win in the grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap and a second Shadwell Turf Mile score.
Wise Dan visited the Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover
last fall to help demonstrate the natural horsemanship techniques Charlie LoPresti learned from the legendary Buck Brannaman, showcasing the Thoroughbred's great adaptability and potential to thrive at future work after leaving the racetrack. The fierce-minded former runner also paraded in the paddock at Churchill Downs before the 2016 Wise Dan Stakes (formerly the Firecracker Handicap, a race he won in 2011 and 2013), but was firmly convinced he was going to race and "threw a fit," in Charlie's words, when the horses left the paddock. So he won't be doing that again.
But when the yearlings at Forest Lane begin to be ridden as their education leads toward the racetrack, Amy LoPresti will take wise old Dan out in the fields with them to teach them a lesson or two about greatness.
It is a simple existence, and those who love and care for him wouldn't have it any other way.
"He's just enjoying life. He deserves it," Charlie LoPresti said.
Steeped in tradition, Woodbine’s world-famous turf races have been captured by some of the greats of the sport including recent Woodbine Mile champs Tepin and Wise Dan; the Hall of Fame mare All Along who captured the International in a standout campaign; and the incomparable Secretariat, who concluded his historic career with a runaway score in the 1973 edition of the International. Join us as we profile Titans of the Turf, highlighting those who have triumphed on the Woodbine green.
September 4th, 2017. Titans Of The Turf: Tepin