The words trainer Charlie LoPresti used to describe Successful Dan on Wednesday were "the picture of health." And more than any of the flattering labels attached to the multiple graded stakes winner, that is the one his connections hope sticks.
Though one wouldn't know it by looking at the robust 7-year-old gelding, injury has been an albatross in Successful Dan's career. On Sunday, the half-brother to reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan will make his latest comeback since being sidelined last summer when he faces six rivals in the Grade III, $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland.
The Ben Ali was the launching pad for Wise Dan's championship campaign in 2012 as Successful Dan's younger sibling romped to a 101/2-length win in a track-record time of 1:46.63 for the 11⁄8 miles.
Successful Dan is himself unbeaten in four prior starts at Keeneland, including a win in the 2010 Grade II Fayette Stakes, but he is coming off the bench after being diagnosed with a sesamoidal ligament strain in his left front as he was prepping for a start in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga last July.
That injury was the same one Morton Fink's homebred suffered after winning the Grade III Northern Dancer Stakes back in 2009, an ailment that kept him from the races until August 2010.
"I don't think I've had him any better soundness-wise," said LoPresti, who sent Wise Dan out to victory in his season debut, the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland last Friday. "Going 11⁄8 miles first time out, I don't know that he'll do what Wise Dan did in the Ben Ali, but I don't care if he wins by a head as long as he wins.
"He (Successful Dan) is really good right now. People don't realize how good he is."
Before his little brother became the top horse in the nation, Successful Dan was threatening to lay claim to leadership of the handicap division when he defeated eventual Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned in the Grade II Alysheba Stakes on May 4.
Fort Larned turned the tables on Successful Dan when he won the Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap in June. but LoPresti feels the lack of acceleration Successful Dan showed on his left lead that day might have been the initial sign the old ailment was flaring up.
"I'm glad we didn't run him in the Whitney or try to keep going with him. It was the smart thing to do," LoPresti said. "I haven't really tightened the screws down but I've got him fit enough to run 11⁄8 miles. I just want him to run good and come back good."
There is no shortage of quality wanting to test Successful Dan in his return. Multiple graded stakes winner Boisterous was supplemented into the race by trainer Shug McGaughey in what will be his first start since running second in the Grade III River City Handicap at Churchill Downs last November.
Multiple Grade I winner Richard's Kid shipped from his California base to join the fray as the 8-year-old attempts to halt a seven-race losing skid.
"He's still 100 percent sound but maybe he needs a little change in scenery to get him back in the winner's circle," said Jack Sisterson, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill. "He's showing us the spark he needs. He was acting like an unbroken 2-year-old (when he got to Keeneland)."
BEN ALI STAKES
When: 4:42 p.m. Sunday
Purse: $150,000 (Grade III)
Distance: 1 1⁄8 miles
PP Horse Jockey
1Successful Dan Leparoux
2 Stephanoatsee Rocco Jr.
3 Golden Ticket Graham
4 Son of a General Albarado
5 Richard's Kid Napravnik
6 Hattaash Desormeaux
7 Boisterous Rosario