It was a trick question. The ultimate trick question for a trainer with two horses - two brothers - nominated to the same race. "On their best day, who would win?"
Charlie LoPresti hesitated. But only for a moment.
"I've got to think Successful Dan has the edge on the dirt, just the way he is, he's really good on it," LoPresti said. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but other than taking him down in the Clark, he's never been beaten at Churchill. He set the track record in the Alysheba last year, over Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man."
He's right. No horse has beaten Successful Dan to the wire in four starts at Churchill Downs. The 7-year-old gelding returned from a 10-month layoff to win the Ben Ali at Keeneland April 21. That return set up Morton Fink's homebred for the Stephen Foster June 15. But there's the rub - and the reason for the question. Half-brother Wise Dan is also nominated. The 6-year-old made his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Mile - and clinching three championships - with a dominant win in the Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland April 12. A winner on the turf, synthetic and dirt, Wise Dan lost by a head in the Foster last year.
As versatile as a navy blazer, Wise Dan is also nominated to the Woodford Reserve on Derby Day at Churchill Downs. He'd take on Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up Point Of Entry in the 9-furlong turf stakes. LoPresti said that John Velazquez would honor his commitment to Point Of Entry there, which would keep Jose Lezcano on Wise Dan. LoPresti will wrestle with that decision.
"He seems like the same horse I put away after the Breeders' Cup," LoPresti said. "I don't see anything different, I don't know if he's any better, I don't know if he's any worse. This race got him where he needs to be, now he's in top form, that was worth five works, that race."
As for Successful Dan, his return came with trepidation and worry.
"It's a shame," LoPresti said. "I was talking to Mr. Fink and (wife) Amy, that horse has been plagued by injuries, if that horse was sound..."
Successful Dan's entire career fit on his Daily Racing Form chart for last weekend's Ben Ali. He broke his maiden in his career debut at Keeneland in April 2009. He won twice more, including the Northern Dancer before being sidelined until August 2010. He made five starts in 2010, winning the Fayette and the Clark, only to be disqualified and placed third in the latter. In 2012, he won an allowance race at Keeneland, won the Alysheba and chased Fort Larned in vain in the Cornhusker.
In the Cornhusker, the big bay gelding labored on the track, driving his bandages up his ankles. LoPresti shipped Successful Dan to Saratoga and started training for the Whitney. A week or so in, the trainer saw something he didn't like, felt something he didn't like and Successful Dan was diagnosed with a strained sesamoidal ligament in his left front. He went back to the farm. The "XYZ" ligament injury is watched like a boiling pot.
"Everything looks good on the outside, I would never even know he had that swelling in that XYZ, if I didn't know it was there It looks good on the inside, Dr. (Larry) Bramlage said he wanted to see him one more time before he ran," LoPresti said before the Ben Ali. "He's ready to run, I've come this far, I don't want to make a mistake if something's starting to unravel or there's some inflammation there, I want to make sure in my heart, he's 100 percent. Outside, the way he's acting, he's 100 percent, but those ultrasounds tell more than I can tell."
The race told him even more.
- In other news from LoPresti barn's, the trainer said he was pleased with Turallure's return in a Keeneland allowance April 6. Off since finishing fourth in the Firecracker last July, the 6-year-old son of Wando finished sixth, but was beaten less than 4 lengths. LoPresti will play it cautiously, trying to get the 6-year-old to Saratoga where he won the Bernard Baruch in 2011.
"I thought it was a good race, it didn't set up really that good, they sprinted away from there and then slammed the door and there he was right in behind them, Julian (Leparoux) had trouble with him, he was pretty sharp. He didn't finish in the first three but he only got beat 3 ½ lengths," LoPresti said. "I want him to build from that. There's a race on the 2nd of May, another allowance race. He's nominated to the Woodford but I don't want to do that, I want to get him winning again and we'll go from there. That horse really excelled at Saratoga, when he got up there, he was a different horse. If I could get him to win an allowance race and maybe win a little listed stakes in the summer, just to get his confidence, up, I don't want to throw him to the wolves because I know he likes it up there."
Watch Wise Dan win the Maker's 46.
Watch Successful Dan win the Ben Ali.
Watch Turallure win the 2011 Bernard Baruch.