Successful Dan, Apart follow similar path to Clark Handicap

They each own graded-stakes wins at Churchill Downs. They spent a chunk of the fall residing two barns away from each other at Keeneland. And despite their raw ability, they have both been overshadowed by some higher-profile stablemates.

While they haven't yet met on the track, the careers of Successful Dan and Apart boast more than one similarity.

On Friday, the two will vie for their first Grade I triumph in what will be the eighth career start for both in the $500,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill.

When entries for the 11⁄8-mile Clark were taken Tuesday, it was more than appropriate that Successful Dan and Apart were deemed the 5-2 morning line favorite and 7-2 second choice, respectively, in the deep field of 11 runners.

Both contenders enter the Clark off impressive victories. Successful Dan rolled to a widening 3-length win at Keeneland in the Grade III Fayette Stakes on Oct. 30, and Apart scored a three-quarter-length triumph in the Grade III Ack Ack at Churchill six days later.

Apart had been under consideration for the Fayette at one point, but trainer Al Stall Jr. was reluctant to run the 3-year-old son of Flatter on a synthetic surface for the first time against older horses such as 4-year-old Successful Dan.

Now, with equal momentum on their side, the two improving horses will get the chance to find out just where they stand in the current handicap ranks.

"We had our eye on (Successful Dan), and he ran like we thought he would in the Fayette," Stall said. "We have a lot of respect for that horse."

Trained by Charlie Lopresti, Successful Dan was unbeaten in three starts last year, including a win last June over eventual Grade I winner Warrior's Reward in the Grade III Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill.

Morton Fink's homebred gelded son of Successful Appeal then suffered a strained ligament and later a strained suspensory, which kept him sidelined until this August. He then he finished fifth in a 6-furlong allowance race at Arlington Park before a runner-up effort in the Presque Isle Mile in September.

While his Grade I-winning stablemate, Here Comes Ben, and half-brother Wise Dan represented Lopresti in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and Sprint, respectively, Successful Dan has won his last two starts — both at Keeneland — by a combined 10 lengths.

"I think the further he goes, the better he is because he can just sit there and relax, and he'll run all day long," Lopresti said after the Fayette. "Julien (Leparoux, jockey) told me at Presque Isle, 'How good will this horse be when we start going further with him?' He's done nothing but mature and get stronger."

Adele Dilschneider's Apart has won three in a row, but he's had to share the barn with recently retired Breeders' Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year candidate Blame, who was also trained by Stall.

Blame laid the groundwork for his ascent to the top of the handicap division when he won the 2009 Clark Handicap as a 3-year-old over elders. With back-to-back wins in the Grade II Super Derby and the Ack Ack to his credit, Apart could be in position to emulate his former stablemate and help fill some very large shoes within the Stall shedrow.

"Apart has some class to him," Stall said. "I told my assistant in Louisiana we'll have something to get out of bed for in the morning even after Blame is gone."

Seven other graded-stakes winners are in the Clark field, including 9-year-old Grade I winner Brass Hat and 9-2 third choice Regal Ransom. The Paul McGee-trained Demarcation also figures to be tough after winning last year's Ack Ack and finishing second to Apart in this year's renewal.