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Jun 28, 2013

Up the Backstretch: Hey, wake up, the champ's back

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 (Sports Network) - Eight weeks is a long time between games in most sports. The two weeks waiting for an NFL team to resume playing after a bye week can seem an eternity.

So, you can imagine how having an eight-week gap between races feels for fans of thoroughbred racing. Like every sports fan in the world, racing fans want to see the best in the sport compete on a regular, timely schedule.

Wise Dan, 2012 Horse of the Year, will be making his first start in eight weeks Saturday night in the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs. The one- mile turf stakes is at the 6-year-old's preferred distance.

The champion thoroughbred last went postward in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill on May 4 prior to the Kentucky Derby. Before that, he started in the Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland on April 12.

In a way, we should be grateful that Wise Dan is racing on Saturday. Trainer Charles LoPresti initially said that the 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile winner "won't run again until Saratoga."

The change in Wise Dan's racing schedule is good for both horse and fans. Horses are built to run and fans love to watch the best runners, well, run. Had Wise Dan not run between the Turf Classic and the Fourstardave at Saratoga, the gap between starts would have been close to three months.

So much is talked about each year on how thoroughbred racing needs a Triple Crown winner to help boost interest in the sport. Little is mentioned concerning the lack of consistent starts by the already existing top horses who compete but don't compete often enough.

Saturday night, Wise Dan, the defending Horse of the Year, three-time Eclipse Award winner and Breeders' Cup race champ, will enter the starting gate for the Firecracker Handicap after 10 p.m. ET.

The evening program is Churchill Downs' attempt at getting new fans and probably couples to come out to the track for some exciting horse racing.

"Downs After Dark" is a series of night-time racing programs at the historic racetrack and should be commended by the industry with other tracks encouraged to think outside the box to draw more people.

Churchill is calling this week's evening "Star-Spangled Night." Patrons are encouraged to use the colors of the United States flag - red, white and blue - in their clothing.

Give praise to Churchill Downs for doing something a little different in promoting thoroughbred racing, but also demand that the best horses in the sport appear more often in competition.

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