In one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, Wise Dan made a case for a top international ranking. And Animal Kingdom, repeatedly injured after his 2011 Derby win, now seems on track for a Dubai World Cup visit next spring.
Wise Dan, with John Velazquez in the irons, tracked an easy pace set by Obviously until the field hit the stretch run. When asked for his best, the 5-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding easily took the lead at mid-stretch.
Excelebration, arguably Europe's top miler after the now-retired Frankel, got into gear in chase of Wise Dan but couldn't cut into his margin. Animal Kingdom, making his first start since February, came like a shot and missed catching the winner by a diminishing 1 1/2 lengths. Wise Dan finished in course-record time of 1:31.78.
It took a look at the photo to separate Obviously in third and Excelebration in fourth.
Moonlight Cloud, the French filly who just missed ending Black Caviar's winning streak at Royal Ascot, made a brief move into the stretch turn but could not sustain the bid and was not a factor at the finish.
Winning owner-breeder Morton Fink described the win as "absolutely the best moment of my career." Asked if he thought the Horse of the Year situation had been resolved after Wise Dan's win over such tough international competition, he said, "It has."
He could be right.
Wise Dan now has won nine of his last 11 races, competing at the top level from Kentucky to New York and Woodbine in Canada. His presence in Saturday's starting gate helped convince some potential rivals to run instead in the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Cup Turf.
After beating top Europeans, albeit over firmer going than is common where they normally race, Wise Dan has credentials not only for a U.S. title but for a top spot on the international rankings.