The gaps in Successful Dan's past performances are as glaring as they are lengthy — which is why trainer Charlie LoPresti remains adamant that everyone see what first jumped out at him four summers ago.
Hiatuses of 14 months, 17 months and his most recent break of nearly 10 months illustrate the physical woes that have plagued the 7-year-old Successful Appeal gelding since his sophomore year of 2009. In a sadistic twist, the suspensory problems that have haunted Successful Dan in his 14 career starts seem to wait until he is on the verge of his best form before resurfacing.
Lost in his comeback upon comeback is the fact that, before injury touched him, Successful Dan was the first horse to give LoPresti a taste of the high-level success that has become the barn's norm. LoPresti hopes the horse who bestowed him with his first career graded stakes win exits Saturday's Grade I, $750,000 Woodward Stakes with a top-level designation all his own.
Backing up LoPresti's belief that a sound Successful Dan could be among the handicap division's best, Morton Fink's homebred gelding was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite out of post No. 2 in a field of seven entered Wednesday for the 11⁄8-mile Woodward at Saratoga.
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Of the Woodward field, which also includes Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, 7-2 second choice Flat Out and sentimental favorite Paynter, only Successful Dan and Mucho Macho Man are not yet Grade I winners.
A great source of comfort to LoPresti while Successful Dan battled ailments was the development of the gelding's younger half-brother Wise Dan, the reigning Horse of the Year. Still, ever since Successful Dan won the Grade III Northern Dancer in 2009, the first graded score for himself and his trainer, LoPresti has pegged the large-bodied bay as one of his best ever.
"It would mean more to me (for Successful Dan to win the Woodward) probably than any race that I've ever won," LoPresti said during a teleconference this week. "I don't say that lightly, because I've won a Breeders' Cup race, I've won Grade I's. But I just think that this particular horse, we've been through so much with him, I would just like for everybody to see that he is as good a horse as I've said all along.
"It would mean a great deal for me to see this horse win. He has a special place in all our hearts."
Successful Dan's ability when he is right supports LoPresti's sentiment. He has eight wins, four graded stakes triumphs and a track record in his start-stop career.
His Grade I ventures have had a similarly hard-luck theme, though. In 2010, Successful Dan crossed the wire first in the Grade I Clark Handicap only to be disqualified to third for interference. This month, as he headed onto the track for what would be a runner-up finish behind Cross Traffic in the Grade I Whitney, Successful Dan got worked up and fell over coming through the paddock, unseating jockey Julien Leparoux.
"It is kind of frustrating. I mean, every time he has come into his own and really started to show the kind of horse he is, there's always something that goes wrong with him," LoPresti said. "I think I had him pretty sharp for (the Whitney). I don't really know why he did it. I've got to think that maybe it took a little bit out of him when he hit the ground as hard as he did. So maybe he wasn't into the race, the first part of it, but he made up a lot of ground and he ran really hard."
Fort Larned got the best of Successful Dan in both the 2012 Grade III Cornhusker Handicap and the Grade I Stephen Foster this June. However, the Ian Wilkes-trainee ran flat after rating just off the pace in the Whitney, fading to fifth for his third loss this year.
Paynter, who has come back from a near fatal bout of colitis and early onset of laminitis, should be going right with Fort Larned early on, setting up for Successful Dan to theoretically sit closer than in the Whitney.
One of LoPresti's favorite pre-race mantras is as long as his horses "run good and come back good, I'll be happy" — something that will carry even more weight when he saddles Successful Dan and Grade I winner Turallure, who runs in the Grade II Bernard Baruch on Saturday.
Last Sunday, LoPresti lost a horse to a fatal race breakdown for the first time in his career when the 5-year-old gelding Kris Royal fractured his left front leg in the ninth race at Saratoga, a 11⁄8-mile turf contest. "I'm still not over it," LoPresti said.
When: 5:45 p.m.
Where: Saratoga Race Course
TV: NBC Sports Network
Distance: 11⁄8 miles
For: 3-year-olds and up
Purse: $750,000 (Grade I)
PP Horse Jockey Odds
1 Ron the Greek Castellano 12-1
2 Successful Dan Leparoux 5-2
3 Fort Larned Hernandez 4-1
4 Flat Out Alvarado 7-2
5 Paynter Bejarano 3-1
6 Mucho Macho Man Prado 6-1
7 Alpha Velazquez 15-1