If he had his druthers, Charlie Lopresti would just as soon train his horses and let the task of handling all the attention they receive fall to someone else.
Seemingly every time the low-key Keene-land-based trainer looked down at his phone this week, there was a new message in his voice mail from someone wanting to discuss the fact that he might have two of the best horses currently in training residing in his shedrow.
"I am nervous because there's a lot of weight on these horses right now and I don't like to have that weight on those horses," Lopresti said. "You know, as long as they run good and come back good ... everything else is going to be gravy on top of that."
Coping with the onslaught of inquiries is something Lopresti concedes he's just going to have to get used to — especially if Wise Dan does what is expected of him in Saturday's Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.
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Considering the depth of talent entered for the $400,000 Stephen Foster, the 11⁄8-mile race could well produce a winner that will be in the mix for year-end honors.
As flawless as Alternation has been in winning all four prior starts this year and as handily as Ron the Greek took the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in March, there is a sense the Foster contenders have a potential monster to slay in 8-5 morning-line favorite Wise Dan.
It was over the Churchill track last November that Wise Dan provided the handicap division a peek at what it had to look forward to in 2012. One year after his older half-brother and fellow Lopresti trainee Successful Dan was disqualified from victory in the Grade I Clark Handicap, Wise Dan put a salve over that wound when he won the 11⁄8-mile test by 33/4 lengths.
The fact the Wiseman's Ferry gelding puts so much into his races and morning outings was part of the reason Lopresti didn't mind keeping the 5-year-old on the shelf until this April. When Wise Dan did resurface for his season debut in the Grade III Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland, he had jockey John Velazquez — among others — shaking his head in awe after he cantered to a 101/2-length triumph in a track-record time of 1:46.63 for 11⁄8 miles.
"You never know about these horses from race to race, but if he wins this race and he wins it as impressive as he did in the Ben Ali, he's going to be a real force to be reckoned with," Lopresti said. "He was off all winter and there was a big question on him when he came back. I'm realistic in that it wasn't a bunch of strong horses he ran against that day but ... there is not a horse who can touch him if he runs that race back."
The reason the affable Lopresti can't field calls fast enough of late is because there are not a lot of obvious holes to be found in Wise Dan or multiple graded stakes winner Successful Dan — who was entered in the nine-horse Foster field as a backup should an ailment befall his sibling.
Though his last three wins have come at 11⁄8 miles, Wise Dan has the tactical speed to sprint and was versatile enough to take the Grade II Firecracker over the Churchill turf last July 4.
His Ben Ali romp came in gate-to-wire fashion, but that tactic was due more to his being fresh. As Wise Dan showed in his Clark triumph and win in the Grade II Fayette at Keeneland last October, he is just as dangerous when he rates — something he may have to do if multiple graded stakes winner Nates Mineshaft sets the Foster pace as expected.
"He's been a lot more settled in his works here over the last four weeks," Lopresti said of Wise Dan. "He's been working strong but his works have been stronger at the end, he hasn't been tough going to the pole."
One day before this year's Kentucky Derby, Successful Dan made a statement of his own when he took the Grade II Alysheba at Churchill in a track-record time of 1:41.04 for 11⁄16 miles.
If little brother can be as loud and convincing in his trip beneath the Twin Spires on Saturday, Lopresti better adjust his eyes to a more intense spotlight.
"If he's as good as we think he is, he'll win and win impressively," Lopresti said. "If he's not, then the horse who beats him is probably the top older horse in the country."
Royal Delta in Fleur de Lis
The Stephen Foster headlines a "Downs after Dark" card that also features champion Royal Delta facing five others in the Grade II Fleur de Lis going 11⁄8 miles.