Wise Dan knocked it out of the park at the Eclipse Awards, as Morton Fink’s versatile homebred took home three awards, including the coveted Horse of the Year title.
His accomplishments were a home run for his sire, the blue-collar stallion Wiseman’s Ferry, as well as his connections. The 14-year-old Wiseman’s Ferry, a son of Hennessy, stands in Lenhartsville, Pa., at Gayle Gerth’s Dana Point Farm, which has been in operation less than five years.
“We’re still in awe, I have to be honest with you,” said Maria Vorhauer, who manages Dana Point. “We are so over the moon and so proud of this horse and what he’s accomplished and what he’s doing for the breeding industry in Pennsylvania. I’m so happy for Gayle being such a newcomer in the industry to have this kind of reward.”
Gerth, a former businesswoman, was attending a family wedding near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 2007 when she decided to go to a New York Thoroughbred Breeders’ Sales Company’s October mixed sale. There, she met Vorhauer, who helped her register as a bidder. A few days later, they bought two mares in partnership, sending them to Pennsylvania to foal.
The costs of boarding a broodmare band led Gerth to begin looking for her own facility. She purchased a then-unused 60-acre farm – formerly home to Arabian and Morgan show horses – in Berks County, about 20 miles west of Allentown, Pa., in the summer of 2008 and added 38 adjoining acres the following year. Wiseman’s Ferry arrived from Castleton Lyons in Lexington, Ky., several months after Dana Point was purchased.
Bred in Kentucky by Nursery Place and Robert T. Manfuso, Wiseman’s Ferry began his racing career for Coolmore and was Group 3-placed as a 2-year-old in Ireland.
Trainer Niall O’Callaghan purchased the colt on behalf of the partnership of Swifty Farms, Dell Ridge, and Morton Fink to race in the U.S. the following year. He won the Lone Star Derby and West Virginia Derby, both Grade 3 events, and was runner-up in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby. He retired in 2003 after sustaining an ankle injury, finishing with 4 wins in 16 starts and earnings of $825,266.
Wiseman’s Ferry began his stallion career at Empire Stud in Hudson, N.Y., in 2004 before moving to Castleton Lyons for the 2006 breeding season. He stood in Kentucky – where Wise Dan was conceived – for three seasons before moving to Dana Point.
Gerth now owns 51 percent of Wiseman’s Ferry, with a syndicate owning the rest. Fink is among the shareholders.
“I have to thank Castleton Lyons for giving us the opportunity to take this horse,” Vorhauer said. “Without Castleton Lyons trusting in us and giving us the opportunity, we wouldn’t be here. And all the shareholders that stayed in and believed in this horse, we appreciated that.”
Although Wise Dan is the stallion’s best-known runner, Wiseman’s Ferry is far from a one-hit wonder. From the same crop as Wise Dan, he produced Grade 2 winner Riding the River, a finalist for the 2012 Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion male turf horse.
From his first six crops of racing age, Wiseman’s Ferry is the sire of 160 winners from 206 starters through Jan. 23, including six stakes winners and six stakes-placed runners. Other top performers include Southern Hemisphere champions Wisemans Cure and Fallera Mayor.
He has progeny earnings of $13,907,684 and career average earnings per starter of $67,513. His 2012 average earnings per starter was $51,074, higher than all but one of the top 10 stallions on the North American general sire list.
“His most positive attribute is the way he’s bred,” Vorhauer said. “And his conformation – he [produces] such a beautiful foal that’s very correct, very good looking. He has a great mind. He throws durability and soundness. That’s what the industry needs. These horses are sound, and they get better as they get older.”
Vorhauer noted that the stallion’s progeny can be late bloomers, but go on to productive careers. Wise Dan and Riding the River were both unraced as 2-year-olds, scoring their first graded stakes victories at ages 3 and 5, respectively.
“If you treat them right, they’ll treat you right,” Vorhauer said. “They’ll give you 100 percent. I have to commend the connections of [Wise Dan] for being so patient with him in his younger years and placing him where he belonged.”
According to Jockey Club statistics, Wiseman’s Ferry, who stood for a stud fee of $3,500 in 2012, covered 32 mares last season. The stallion, who will stand for $5,000 in 2013, will cover significantly more mares this spring. Vorhauer said the stallion’s book, capped at 100, is almost full.
Vorhauer says Wiseman’s Ferry’s rise is a story of hope for racing.
“We’re always trying to bring new people [into the industry],” she said. “[Wise Dan is] a homebred. They didn’t spend a lot of money on the mare, Mr. Fink owns a share in [Wiseman’s Ferry], and look what he got.
“I hope more people can see that it’s not an impossible dream. You don’t have to spend a million dollars to get a good one. You never know where it’s going to come from. That’s what keeps us all in the game.”