What began as a kindly gesture on Wayne Catalano's part is threatening to become an over-the-top, fate-driven series of circumstances. And the venerable horseman can't help but chuckle when he tells the story.
Some years ago — Catalano can't recall when — horse owner Susan Moulton called the trainer for help with getting Breeders' Cup tickets in California and ended up sharing a box at the event with him and his family.
Sometime between the parties and championship racing, Moulton declared she'd like to "have one of these horses one day to maybe run in the Breeders' Cup," to which Catalano cracked in his streetwise tone: "You're talking to the right guy."
The actions of Moulton's graded stakes-winning juvenile Solitary Ranger are poised to make a prophet out of Catalano. Solitary Ranger could cement a spot in this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, held fittingly enough at Santa Anita Park, with a victory in Saturday's Grade I, $400,000 Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
The 11⁄16-mile Breeders' Futurity drew an overflow field of 16 2-year-olds on a card that also features reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan taking on nine in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile, champion Groupie Doll facing five in the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America and a balanced group of eight distaffers lining up for the Grade I First Lady Stakes.
Boasting about his horses isn't Catalano's game, which is why attention must be paid to the praise he laid upon Solitary Ranger after the colt's 51/2-length victory in the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 7.
Having trained such champions as Dreaming of Anna and She Be Wild, Catalano thinks the dark bay juvenile he bought for Moulton last spring could top all his previous standouts.
"I'm hoping he's the best horse I've trained. He's sure training like it, acting like it," Catalano said from Keeneland this week. "But he has to step up to the plate and do it. If we can get this race out of him, he can prove me right."
Catalano claims he forgot about his possibly predictive conversation with Moulton for about a year. He then tried to land a claiming horse for her only to have that deal fall through.
Plan B emerged when Solitary Ranger, who was being trained by Catalano for previous owners Marshall Dowell and William Pate, came out of his runner-up finish behind eventual Group I winner No Nay Never in a maiden race at Keeneland last April with a hind leg cut.
"They were wanting to sell him, couldn't get him sold, and I thought, 'I forgot all about this lady who wanted a horse!'" Catalano said. "I called her up, said, 'I got one for you,' and she says, 'Oh, really? How much?' I said, '$125,000.' She said, 'OK, buy him.'
"Luckily, he got stepped on in the race ... so he had to stay here," Catalano said. "They (the owners) were talking about taking him to California to sell him and I said I got a lady who will give you money for him. They called me back and said, 'We'll take that.' And here we are."
Solitary Ranger has not been worse than second in his three career starts — all over synthetic surfaces. Catalano brings his own well of success into the Keeneland Fall Meet having just collected his 11th training title at Arlington Park, with his starters earning a single-season Arlington record of $2,060,909 including 70 winners.
Catalano also has maiden winner Battlefield Angel set for Friday's $400,000 Darley Alcibiades for 2-year-old fillies, the first of five Grade I races that headline Keeneland's opening weekend, and has cross entered Hogy in Friday's Grade III Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes and Saturday's Shadwell.
"We came in (to Arlington) with some horses that could win, but we didn't know about winning five or six stakes, that was pretty good," he said. "Everything came together at the right time and we got some good results for some very good clients giving us a chance.
"It's going to continue (at Keeneland), I believe. We're set up to do pretty good. But we've been there before and it didn't work out as well as we expected."
Wise Dan, Groupie Doll draw outside
Slated to face his largest field of contenders since besting 11 others in last year's Shadwell Turf Mile, champion Wise Dan will break from the outside post 10 in Saturday's edition of the race at Keeneland.
Unbeaten in his last nine starts with six Grade I wins in that span, Wise Dan will be an overwhelming choice against the likes of graded stakes winner Silver Max and stablemate Turallure.
Reigning champion female sprinter Groupie Doll will also be making her run from the outside, having landed in post six for the Thoroughbred Club of America, a race she won last year by 61/2 lengths.
When: Friday through Oct. 26 (No racing on Mondays and Tuesdays).First post each day: 1:05 p.m.