The affection Charlie and Amy Lopresti have for all their horses is obvious the minute anyone steps into their shedrow. But mention Successful Dan to the couple and it becomes equally plain the 6-year-old gelding generates an extra tug on their collective heart strings.
"He is kind of special, he's like one of the family," said Charlie Lopresti, who conditions Successful Dan for owner Morton Fink. "He was one of the first top horses we had and we put a lot of time into him, (wife) Amy's put a lot of time into him."
Due to a reoccurring suspensory injury, much time, patience and nail biting has gone into getting Successful Dan back to the racetrack. After being sidelined since November 2010, Successful Dan will take his first steps toward resuming his promising career when he faces a stakes-quality field of eight others in a 7-furlong allowance race Friday, the opening day of Keeneland's Spring Meet.
Perhaps the most painful part of having Successful Dan's career interrupted this last time was that it came when the gelded son of Successful Appeal appeared on the verge of becoming a force in the handicap division. After handily winning the Grade II Fayette Stakes at Keeneland, Successful Dan crossed the wire first in the 2010 edition of the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs — his last start before being injured — but was disqualified to third due to interference in the stretch.
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When he's right, Successful Dan has proven he can shine on either dirt or synthetic, from sprint distances to routes. After months of lengthy rehab on the Loprestis' farm, his connections hope the strapping bay will be healthy for the long haul.
"Everything looks as good as I want, I just hope he comes back to the same level," said Lopresti. "That's the thing you worry about with a horse like that when they've been injured like that is if they're the same horse mentally. He doesn't have to win (Friday), but he has to run good. If he runs good and comes back good, we build from there."
Though not a graded stakes, Successful Dan's comeback race has as much quality as any contest on tap for Keeneland's opening weekend. Among the eight rivals he will face are Grade I winners Capt. Candyman Can and Noble's Promise and Grade III winner Hoofit.
"I don't think the Grade II Commonwealth (at Keeneland on April 14) will be any easier," Lopresti said of the allowance race. "We looked at both of them, but I think this is the race to get started with anyway. You have to get started somewhere."
Some of the sting of having Successful Dan on the sideline was alleviated when his half-brother Wise Dan avenged his sibling by capturing the 2011 Clark Handicap for Lopresti and Fink. Wise Dan is slated to run in the Grade III Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland on April 22. By then, Lopresti will ideally be plotting the next move on Successful Dan's latest return.
"It's frustrating (to see him get hurt) but I feel pretty good that we got him back to the races," Lopresti said. "All winter he lived down there in the barn by our house and he's been in training since August, going up and down the hills. Everyone has seen him work out here, his workouts have been super."