The paths of their barns might not cross often, but there is a certain commonality between the shedrows of trainer Shug McGaughey and Keeneland-based conditioner Charlie LoPresti.
Aside from the fact both house some of the top-rated runners in the country, McGaughey's son Reeve works for LoPresti — a potential edge the Hall of Famer swears he doesn't take advantage of.
"I don't ask," the elder McGaughey said when asked if he ever calls upon his familial connection.
It doesn't take an embedded insider to detail what McGaughey's charge Data Link is up against Friday. In order for the 5-year-old son of War Front to defend his title in the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland and join Kip Deville as the only two-time winners of the race, the hard-knocking bay will have to knock off not just the best runner in LoPresti's arsenal, but the reigning Horse of the Year.
With Wise Dan slated to make his 2013 debut in the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile, it is little wonder only four others were entered for the 8-furlong turf race. The last time LoPresti sent a Grade I winner out for his season debut in the Maker's 46, however, it was Data Link who ruined the party. He defeated Wise Dan's stablemate Turallure by a neck in 2012 to earn the first of what are now four graded stakes wins in his career.
Though Wise Dan got the best of Data Link in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile last October, winning that outing by 21/4 lengths while the latter came home fifth, the McGaughey trainee comes into the Maker's 46 off back-to-back wins in the Grade II Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park last November and the Grade III Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 23.
"He's a good horse (Wise Dan), but I think you might see a little different dimension to Data Link (on Friday)," McGaughey said. "We ran against him last fall and it just didn't work out the way we wanted, got way too far back. I think the way he is now he can lay up closer and go on.
"His race in Florida at Gulfstream, Javier (jockey Castellano) came back and said, 'Well that was fun.' He's trained really well since then. Obviously we know what we're going up against with the Horse of the Year."
Owned and bred by Stuart Janney, Data Link is a success story in his own right. He was on the Triple Crown trail as a 3-year-old but developed hairline fractures in both cannon bones that required surgery and sidelined him until October 2011. Aside from a couple of fifth-place runs in the Shadwell last year and Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic last May, it's hard to find a truly off effort from Data Link in a 16-race career which has produced eight wins.
"He's a really, really nice horse," McGaughey said. "You kind of throw out that race here in the Shadwell and he really had a good year. I think he should run an improved race here in the Maker's."
Regular rider John Velazquez is recovering from injuries suffered in a spill at Aqueduct last weekend, so Wise Dan will have Jose Lezcano — who guided him to his Shadwell victory — back in the irons on Friday.
The only time Wise Dan has lost in six career starts on the turf came when Morton Fink's homebred ran fourth in the 2011 Shadwell Turf Mile.
Though the Breeders' Cup Mile winner has touted himself with his typically magnificent works in the morning, LoPresti concedes that if ever Wise Dan might be beaten, it could be in this spot with Data Link and the likes of graded stakes winners Silentio and Mr. Commons also in the field.
"I don't have any reservations running him but ... I think he could be vulnerable in this Grade I with horses like Data Link who have already run," LoPresti said. "I think the Ben Ali Stakes (on April 21), if he ran there he would just gallop like he did (when he won that race) last year. But he's just doing really good."
Maker's 46 Mile
When: 5:13 p.m.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.