"Where we going now?"
Charlie LoPresti asked, moments after Wise Dan won the Fourstardave. LoPresti had watched in worry, celebrated in relief, posed with the team, talked to reporters, given his home address to an artist who wanted to paint Wise Dan. And then, walking aimlessly through the clubhouse, he was lost.
"Well, you can go to the Trustees Room."
"To tell you the truth, I'd rather go see my horse. Do you mind?"
Mind? There's nowhere I'd rather go.
LoPresti and I began to walk through the long cavernous grandstand, as fans lined up to bet the last or headed for home. The place still rumbled with life, tickets strewn on the floor, we stepped over a popcorn box, past an empty Saratoga Special paper rack and meandered along the back of the building, down a loading dock and wound up on the horse path leading to the test barn.
The Special has been walking with LoPresti since 2010 when the Kentucky-based trainer shipped a horse to Saratoga for the first time. We knew his name, knew he trained some horses for Bob and Beverly Lewis, knew we talked to him about a long striding jumper prospect somewhere down the line. When he came here in 2010, he was an easy story. New guy, new place. Perfect. We had to find him - talking to his mother on the phone while sitting on a tack box in Eoin Harty's barn - we did a preview about his horse Here Comes Ben for the Forego. When the Kentucky guy upset the feature, w did a recap, walked through the backyard, talked to him about horses, life, success. Asked about the impact of a Grade I win at Saratoga on his career, LoPresti talked about being a "Turfway trainer."
We were fast friends.
The next year, LoPresti came back with astring. Here Comes Ben returned and so did Turallure. He lost the Fourstardave, upset the Bernard Baruch. We walked out the Nelson Avenue gate, in a sea of fans, Siro's music blaring, talking about the over-achieving horse and the archetypical racetrack. LoPresti shook his head, "Can you believe I ame up here and won another one like this?"
Last year, LoPresti returned again. This time with the effervescent Wise Dan who had started to put his life and career in order. LoPresti put him back on the grass and Wise Dan won the Fourstardave with aplomb, on his way to Horse of the Year honors. Another story, another walk.
This year, well, he's done it again. Wise Dan made it eight in a row, taking another renewal of the Fourstardave.
This year, well, he did it again.
We probably write too much about LoPresti but he's the rarest of finds in this game. Small trainer, who wins big races. He rests his horses in the winter, likes to drive his tractor around his Kentucky farm, he'd rather go to the test barn than the champagne room. It's refreshing and different, while being pertinent and newsworthy.
Saturday, we walked. And talked.
"I'm not a traveling around kind of guy, I'm a homebody in the winter, I like to break my babies and piddle around, it's hard to keep horses going all year long, at least for me," LoPresti said. "I just like coming up here. If you're going to train and race horses, you want to come to a place like this. I know I'll probably never have another horse like Wise Dan but to come here, to get a chance to run horses in graded stakes..."It wasn't always like this for LoPresti and his wife Amy. They built up a strong clientele for their farm, breaking promising babies and freshening classy veterans. Most would go somewhere else. LoPresti wrote horse trainer on his tax return, but he was a long way from training the horses he wanted to train.
"There were a lot of days that I wasn't going to do this any more," LoPresti said. "I used to tell Amy, 'We get a lot of good horses to break and a lot of good clients, but the horses I'm training, they're just mediocre horses.' Staying in Kentucky the way we do, nobody's going to go to a sale and buy me real expensive yearlings. I'm getting better horses, people are starting to talk to me. But I just don't want to get real big, I want to be the guy who walks back here to the barn and sees my horse at the test barn."
As LoPresti walked into the test barn, Wise Dan had cooled out and was ready to go home. The reigning Horse of the Year strolled out of the barn and began his walk to LoPresti's barn on the backside of the main track.
Brian Ange picked up LoPresti in his golf cart and they began to drive back to the barn. LoPresti asked Ange to stop.
"You need a ride?" LoPresti asked. "Come on back to the barn."
I shook my head and smiled, "I wish I could. I've got to go write about it."
LoPresti waved, "Come by in the morning."