Horse Racing: Wise Dan Wins Again; Ranks Among All-Time Great Geldings?

When 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan came roaring off the final turn in the 2013 Fourstardave Handicap this past Saturday at Saratoga Racetrack, wore down, collared, and several second later, was drawing away from a still running strong pacemaker King Kressa, I realized Wise Dan not only added to his legacy, but he might be one of the better geldings we’ve seen in recent memory

I mean think about it….he recorded his eighth win in a row, under a staggering 129 lbs, while breaking from the #1 post position, and was pinned down on the rail most of the way around, yet was pulling away at the end while stopping the clock in a remarkable 1:34 flat over a turf surface labeled “good”….all that while jockey John Velazquez never even thought about raising his stick (He was in hand all the way.)…that’s impressive.

“As I told some of you today, to prove that he’s a great horse like everybody’s talking about, he had to carry that weight,” trainer Charles LoPresti said. “He was cruising up the rail. I was worried about that front-runner. When (Wise Dan) cruised up to him on equal terms, he had so much horse he just went right on by him. Johnny just kind of rode him out”.

“I know that horse of ours has a great kick. And he proved he’s a great horse today.”

“He broke well, was in the right place following the speed in the race. After that, it was pretty easy,” Velazquez said. “I knew at the time I pulled out it was going to be a fight down the lane and I know my horse is a fighter. It was awesome. It was a much tougher race than last year. (King Kreesa) was peaking at the right time. But my horse still did it, and with a lot of weight on top of him, too.”

King Kreesa, who was dead game, but simply outgunned, was 4 3/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Lea, with Mr. Commons fourth. Then came Willyconker and Skyring in the field of six.

“I knew [King Kreesa] was going to keep digging,” said Jeremiah Englehart, trainer of King Kreesa. “With 129 pounds, (Wise Dan) still had the heart to run him down. It takes a real nice horse, and he is a champion.”

“I had a lot of horse at the quarter pole, and I thought I could win the race, but Wise Dan is a great horse,” said Irad Ortiz Jr. who rode the runner-up.

Which brings me to the title of this article….so exactly where does Wise Dan stack up amongst the all time great geldings? The first thought that popped into my mind was exactly how do we define “a great gelding”?…it is longevity? ….wins?…physical ability/talent? or a combination of things? The second thought that popped into my mind was “well, since his career is still ongoing, it’s too early to tell where he ranks”.

While I’m sure my first thought is very debatable, I’m sure my second thought is not.

Before we take a look at how Wise Dan stacks up against other geldings of the past let me say here and now that (as silly as it sounds) I’m not a big fan of geldings. (Even though I own a portion of one that is about 30-45 days away from making his racing debut.)

First of all, it goes against nature…of course, me being a male there is a little part of me that cringes every time I hear the words “gelded or gelding”. Second, there is a certain amount of “frustration” for me sort of speak. I mean, just one of a thousand things about the sport of Horse Racing I enjoy is the breeding aspect. I like watching son and daughters of horses who faired well, or were popular in their day, perform.

For instance if I see a two year old making his or her debut and he or she is by…I don’t know…say …Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Curlin or Bernardini, (the list goes on and on) to me, there is a little extra excitement that goes into that horse.

Moreover, could some please tell me exactly where this sport would be if say Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, A.P Indy, Seattle Slew, Alydar or Seeking The Gold (again the list goes on and on) were all gelded?…I shutter to think.

Regardless of all that, I started researching it anyway and I’ll go ahead and tell you, by looking at the stats, Wise Dan might be higher on the list (already) that I thought. I put together a list, did come comparing and saw that could Wise Dan could already be a “top 10-er”

At this point, isn’t Wise Dan, who is currently owns 17 wins in a 24 race career with a Horse of the Year title (and well on his way to a second one), better than say Best Pal, who has just one more lifetime win but nearly double the amount of starts (47)? And no major year end titles? (Albeit, he was a three time Californian Horse of the Year Awards and is enshrined in the Racing Hall of Fame) or how about the ever popular Lava Man, who has a eerily similar record than that of Best Pal (47 starts, 17 wins including The Hollywood Gold Cup, the Santa Anita Handicap and has several best California horse awards, but again, no major titles)?

I’d put Wise Dan above Funny Cide too. Sure, Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup and was voted three year old champion male in 2003 while banking about $3.5 million in earnings. I’m sorry, but a three year old championship pails in comparison to a Horse of the Year title and almost a million dollars more in earnings (Wise Dan is currently at almost $5.4 million).

Wise Dan trumps Kona Gold as well. Kona Gold was sprint champion in the year 2000 and won almost half his starts (14 of 30) while banking just about $2.3 million…. No real comparison here.

Give the edge to Wise Dan again against Da Hoss, who possibly pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of the sport when he won a second Breeders Cup Turf race after being out of racing for almost two years. All told, Da Hoss won 12 of 20 races, less than $2 million and, again, no major year end awards.

The hill does get a lot steeper for Wise Dan when I (possibly unfairly) compared him to steeplchase legend Lonesome Glory, who won an astounding five Eclipse Awards for Best Steeplechaser spread out over eight years (1992, 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999) and won 23 of 42 starts.

Roamer is another who Wise Dan is still looking up at. Roamer, who’s very exsistance was an “accident” when his sire, Knight Errant, broke thru a fence and covered a blind mare named Rose Tree II, had a record of 98 starts 39 wins 26 seconds and 9 thirds. 

Roamer ran successfully dirt and turf and could sprint or go long. Among his many wins between 1913 and 1920 include  the Saratoga Special, the Carter Handicap,  Travers Stakes, and Washington Handicap.

He also recorded multiple wins in the Queens County Handicap (twice) and the Saratoga Handicap (three times). Roamer was named  Horse of the Year in 1914 and U.S. Champion Older Male in 1915 and 1916. 

Waters get even deeper when I compared Wise Dan to several others great geldings of the past including the legendary Phar Lap, who albeit didn’t win any year end championships but won called a “wonder horse” and won an eye popping 73% of his starts (37 for 51). Old Rosebud, who won a mind-boggling 40 of 80 career starts and “unofficially” two year end championships. Armed, who did one race better than Old Rosebud while winning 41 of 81 races while running second 20 times and third 10 times….that’s 71 of 81 career starts on the board if you’re keep score at home.

From what I can see, Wise Dan has a long way to go to catch Fort Marcy, who won just 21 of  74 races but claimed an unbelievable five year end championships and over $1 million, which in the late 1960’s was an incredible feat. Native Diver, who won 37 of 81 races with an unimaginable 35 of those 37 wins in stakes races. He also set  six track records while carrying 130 lbs in three of the six.

Lastly, one can only hope Wise Dan gets into the upper echelon of great geldings of all time. It would seem he is going to have a hard time catching up with Exterminator, who won 50 (that’s right…50) of 99 career starts from 1918 thru 1923 (including the 1918 Kentucky Derby) and an unheard of at the time (over) a quarter of a million dollars. He also captured five year end championship titles.

I can’t see Wise Dan overtaking the great John Henry either. John Henry won the first Arlington Million that, in my mind,  remains the second best horse race I’ve ever witnessed live. (Victory Gallop vs. Real Quiet in the 1998 Belmont Stakes ranks as #1 for me). Here it is again and ever time I watch the replay I’m not sure how John Henry does it….He looks beaten with as little as 100 yards left in the race.

Overall, John Henry won 39 of 83 races, over $6.5 million in purses and an amazing seven Eclipse Awards all told.

If Wise Dan can’t top John Henry’s seven Eclipse Awards, how will he top the mighty Forego’s eight? Not sure it’s possible but I’d love to see him try….by the end of the mighty one’s career he’d won 34 of 57 races while finishing second nine times and third seven times….that’s 50 of 57 either first, second or third. He also amassed almost $2 million in an era where there was no Breeders Cup all while taking an hour of cold water hosing daily on a set of bum ankles.

Of the eight year end awards, four were Champion Older Horse Awards, three were Horse of the Year titles and one Sprinter of the Year Award…..can you say durable and versatile?

The mighty Forego won three Horse of the Year titles

The mighty Forego won three Horse of the Year titles

No-one…and I mean no-one…..will ever achieve what the greatest gelding of all time Kelso achieved.

Affectionately nicknamed “Kelly” by his connections, he won 39 of 63 (62%) of his races and finished in the money in 53 of those 63 races. Amongst his accomplishments that may never be equaled include:

*Carrying 130 pounds or more in 24 races (winning 13, placing in 5, and finishing third once.)

*World Record holder for two miles (on the dirt) of 3:19.1 (set in the 1964 Jockey Club Gold Cup)

* World Record holder for 1½ miles on the turf of 2:23.4 (set in the 1964 Washington, D.C. International,  just 11 days after his Jockey Club Gold Cup World Record).

* Set a total of nine  track records in his career

The greatest gelding of all time...Kelso

The greatest gelding of all time…Kelso

But perhaps the single most impressive feat that Kelso achieved was five…count them five… Horse of the Year titles in a row. That, readers, is a mark that will never, ever be duplicated.

I’m not sure exactly how far up the list Wise Dan will go and I seriously doubt he gets to the top but it’ll be fun watching try…won’t it?

Thanks for reading…

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Comments

  1. Steve says

    Wise Dan is not going to run 50 times as things are different in today’s racing. If he runs as good as he has for the next couple of years he goes down with the best geldings ever. As for now, he is the most exciting horse running. Its his combination of talent,will, and toughness that draws you in. His gracious and humble connections are easy to root for as well.

    • Gerard says

      Unfortunately you are probably right Steve….he wont run 50-60 times. But I am curiuos to see how far he wil go or how many times he will ….Thanks for the reply

  2. says

    May I add, Dr, Fager?. Incredible record and carried weight (big Time)
    My problem with geldings . As they reach toward the end of their career many slowly slip into the
    Claiming game and move from barn to barn. and after the race to the bottom! they finish up in the kill pen at some sleazy auction.Surely they deserve better.

  3. mike Moss says

    how can you compare him to the horses or the earl 1900″s when the breeding and the racing in my opinion was not nearly as tough the clocking of tracks was not as reliable n sofisticated as it is today. So I think if you throw out all of the really early 1900’s Wise Dan is remarkably in the top 10 or even the top 5

    • Gerard says

      Hi Mike, funny you should say that…..I’m working on a piece right now that talks about ALL of that….and to answer your question, I just wanted the readers to see the entire picture….not just that last 30-40 years or so.

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