Success that seemingly comes from nowhere raises an eyebrow in either sport or business, but a repeat of those results brings validation and admiration.
Trainer Charles Lopresti arrived on the national racing scene late last summer like a meteor streaking across an evening horizon. Two of the 16 horses in his stable – Here Comes Ben and Wise Dan – emerged as major players heading into the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs. Also thriving in his Rice Road barn at Keeneland was Successful Dan, a 4-year-old that his trainer thought might be as good as most older horses in North America.
He did not win a Breeders’ Cup race, but such a victory would simply have been gravy in a career year for Lopresti, who took out his trainer’s license in 1994. The year’s highlight was a win by Here Comes Ben in Saratoga’s Forego, Lopresti’s first Grade I triumph, and was followed by an upset by Wise Dan in Keeneland’s historic Phoenix. That earned the latter a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, where he finished a solid sixth.
Successful Dan lived up to Lopresti’s hopes with a romp in Keeneland’s Fayette Handicap, and appeared to have secured a Grade I victory when he edged Giant Oak in a dramatic running of Churchill Downs’ $500,000 Clark Handicap. But stewards disqualified Successful Dan for interfering with a rival in the upper stretch, a disappointing decision that was a rare setback in Lopresti’s biggest year.
Last weekend the native of Brooklyn, NY served notice that his 2010 run was no “one-hit wonder” when he traveled to Toronto to saddle Four D Stable’s Turallure for a thrilling victory over heavily favored Courageous Cat in the $1 million Woodbine Mile.
The gray Turallure seemed hopelessly buried behind rivals in the stretch, but Julien Leparoux pulled him off the rail, swung eight wide to find an opening, and then used every inch of the nearly 3/8-mile stretch of the Woodbine turf course to run down Courageous Cat and French invader Right One to give Lopresti another Grade I win.
Turallure’s owners and breeders – Donna and Danny Arnold – are accustomed to the spotlight. Donna was a singer and dancer with the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show during the 1960’s, and Danny was a Hollywood screenwriter and producer involved in the hit sitcoms “Bewitched” and “Barney Miller.”
Now the Arnolds will likely get a chance to see how one of Thoroughbred racing’s biggest stages looks and feels because Turallure’s Woodbine heroics earned him a spot in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.
With that win, Lopresti seems clearly headed for a big finish in 2011 that could rival or exceed his career-best success in 2010.
“We’re a little bit ahead of last year in terms of purse money,” Lopresti said via telephone on Monday, “but it’s all coming together at the right time.”
Lopresti has at least one more Breeders’ Cup hope in Morton Fink’s Wise Dan, last year’s sprint star who won the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs in his debut on grass. The 4-year-old son of Wiseman’s Ferry is set to run in Keeneland’s Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile on Oct. 8. His rivals there are expected to include reigning American turf champion and defending winner Gio Ponti, and a victory would earn Wise Dan a berth to face three-time winner Goldikova and stablemate Turallure in the Mile.
Lopresti sees little to separate Turallure and Wise Dan. Should the latter earn a mile bid with a big run in the Shadwell Mile, Lopresti could consider another spot for Turallure – perhaps even the 1 ½-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf. While that’s not an immediate concern, it’s not a bad situation for Lopresti, whose stable this year numbers about 30 horses.
“I think they’re pretty comparable,” Lopresti said of his 2011 stars. “I do think Turallure will go further, and we’ll just have to explore that. I don’t know whether he can go a mile and a half.”
Although he’s a long way from another Breeders’ Cup shot, Here Comes Ben is working well after a late summer break and Lopresti hopes for a good fall for the 5-year-old son of Street Cry as a step toward another racing campaign in 2012.
And Lopresti is more optimistic than ever about a return to racing by Successful Dan, who has not raced this year because of an injury to a suspensory ligament. Successful Dan is now being ridden on the farm now and could get an OK in the next few days to return to galloping on the track. A 2012 season for that star now seems possible.
A look at the runners that have fueled Lopresti’s success over the past two seasons reveals racing schedules that reflect patience and timing. Here Comes Ben has been the busiest of those horses with 17 starts over three seasons. New star Turallure has 15 races over two seasons, but got plenty of rest with a winter break that stretched from mid-November to mid-April.
It’s a common theme for all horses trained by Lopresti, who has an able partner in his wife, Amy. She has long been revered for her touch in working with young horses and in helping to bringing injured horses back to the racetrack.
It’s a team effort that, in light of Lopresti’s big two-year run, clearly works.
“I’m very lucky,” Lopresti said. “The people that I train for are really patient. They really trust Amy and me. Not a lot of people let you take the winter off with horses. They want you to go here, there and everywhere. But they like out program and let us do what we need to do.”
And there is evidence that Lopresti’s run is just beginning, although – like most people in the horse business – he never looks more than a step or two down the road.
“I’ve got some nice 3-year-olds and some nice 2-year-olds I’m excited about,” Lopresti said. “If the good Lord is willing and the horses stay sound, I think we’re going to finish up the year good, I hope.”