Updated on 09/17/2011 10:07AM

Champali: Horse of a lifetime, so far

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Jason Stewart/Lang Photography
"You do start wondering if you'll ever get a horse like this. And he is by far the best horse I've had to this time." - Trainer Greg Foley on Champali

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For nearly as long as he can remember, trainer Greg Foley has been getting up early in the morning to tend to racehorses.

"I was probably nine or 10 when I first started grooming horses for my dad," said Foley, whose father, Dravo, and sister, Vickie, also are active trainers on the Kentucky circuit. "I got my first license in 1978 or 1979."

But Foley, 45, never had a horse worthy of consideration for the Kentucky Derby - until now. On Saturday, he will saddle Champali as a major contender in the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes, the signature race of the long winter-spring meet at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

"You do start wondering if you'll ever get a horse like this," said Foley. "And he is by far the best horse I've had to this time."

Indeed, with six wins from just seven starts, Champali has become the talk of Louisville, where all three Foleys maintain stables year-round. The buzz about Champali started last November, when the colt won the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs, and it has grown progressively louder with his victories in three consecutive prep races at Turfway: the Prevue, the WEBN, and the John Battaglia Memorial.

Champali is owned by Lloyd Madison Farms, a syndicate consisting primarily of a group from Madison, Wis., and managed by Rob Lloyd of Louisville. When questioned last fall about the colt's name, Lloyd conceded that Champali "might" have been named for Louisville's most famous son, former boxing champion Muhammad Ali, but that naming rights - if any were required - were not obtained from Ali and that "for the record, any resemblance to the champ is strictly coincidental."

Whatever the basis for his name, Champali will be subjected to a critical test Saturday in the Lane's End. It will determine whether Foley can proceed with him to the 129th Kentucky Derby, run at Churchill Downs, Foley's home track, on May 3. The Lane's End is run at 1 1/8 miles, and because Champali is by Glitterman - a sire noted for offspring with terrific speed but questionable stamina - there is some lingering doubt as to whether he can be effective at longer distances.

Foley noted that just two years ago in the Lane's End (then known as the Spiral Stakes), Balto Star, a son of Glitterman, set a stakes record when he romped to a 12 3/4-length triumph. "A Glitterman's already won this race, so I'm not that worried about it," said Foley. Moreover, Champali "has answered everything we've asked of him so far. Every time we've asked him to do something new, he's handled himself real well."

Yet with Lion Tamer and several other new faces shipping into Turfway for the Lane's End, Champali will be meeting more accomplished opponents than he has faced this winter. Foley is realistic in his thinking about what Saturday means in regard to the Derby.

"He has to almost win this race before we'll think about going on to the Derby, or be second at the worst," he said, adding that the Lane's End could be the colt's final Derby prep, "depending on how he runs and how he comes out of the race."

Jason Lumpkins, who has dominated the jockey standings at Turfway this winter, again has the mount on Champali. With known rider assignments, these are the other Lane's End probables: Lion Tamer, John Velazquez; Saintly Look, Shane Sellers; Eugene's Third Son, Pat Day; and New York Hero, Lots of Sizzle, Ozzie Cat, and Honeagle.

Two other possible starters are Chicken Soup Kid and Wendlar, either or both of whom may run in the $100,000 Rushaway, one of the four Saturday undercard stakes.

Both the Rushaway and Lane's End will be televised live on ESPN2 on a one-hour broadcast that begins at 4 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Lane's End will be about 4:40 p.m. Admission for the 12-race Saturday card has been raised to $10. First post is noon.

Entries for the Lane's End will be drawn Thursday at a press breakfast at the track.

Rushaway heads undercard

The Rushaway, a 1 1/16-mile race, is shaping up with a field of seven or eight, said Randy Wehrman, Turfway's stakes coordinator. Probables include Desert Warrior, Private Gold, Astral Plane, Brush With Gold, and either of the Dale Romans duo of Acceptable Venture and Dance Pro.

Of the remaining three stakes, the $150,000 Bourbonette Breeders' Cup Stakes appears to be coming up the deepest. A sizable field of 3-year-old fillies is expected to be headed by Red Hot Bertie, Red Cell, Unbridled Femme, Beautiful Treasure, and Golden Marlin.

The other undercard stakes, both $50,000 sprints, are the Queen for older fillies and mares and the Hansel for 3-year-olds.