04/05/2017 11:56AM

Halo Humor finally rewards Cruppers with Practical Joke

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Barbara D. Livingston
Practical Joke, a son of Louisiana-bred mare Halo Humor, will try to earn a Kentucky Derby berth in Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes.

Keith Crupper purchased the stakes-placed Louisiana-bred Halo Humor for $130,000 at the 2008 Keeneland January sale of horses of all ages – a pricey investment for the Whispering Oaks Farm operation he owns and operates with brother Allen in Paris, Ky. The Thoroughbred business can be fickle, and for a while, it looked like the mare was playing a good joke on the Cruppers. From her first five foals, she produced just one winner.

“We kept thinking there was a good horse in her,” Keith Crupper said. “We just needed to find it.”

Who’s laughing now?

Halo Humor’s son Practical Joke, one of just a few foals bred each year by the Cruppers – who also take on mares for boarders – was a two-time Grade 1 winner last year, taking the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga and the Champagne Stakes at Belmont. As Practical Joke returns to his home state, the Cruppers, natives of Georgetown, Ky., will be on hand to watch the colt try to punch his ticket to the Kentucky Derby in the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland.

“Unless we’ve got like 12 breeding-shed runs,” Crupper said with a laugh.

Crupper has already been a bit player in one Kentucky Derby story. Serving as a bloodstock agent for Mark Allen, he helped connect the owner to the connections of Mine That Bird. Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach privately purchased the gelding, who went on to pull a shocking upset in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

The Cruppers play a bigger role in the story of Practical Joke, beginning when they took notice of Halo Humor, by Distorted Humor, in the summer of 2005. She won the first two starts of her career at Saratoga by a combined 10 1/2 lengths before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Matron Stakes at Belmont Park. She started twice the following year in Louisiana and just missed becoming a stakes winner when she was beaten a nose in the Lil Liza Jayne Stakes at Evangeline.

“We’ve always liked the mare,” Crupper said. “She was very fast herself. She ran fourth in the Matron, she came out blistering at Saratoga. When we bought her, that’s what we were looking at. It was the most we’d ever given for a mare.”

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For the breeding that produced Practical Joke on a 2013 cover, the Cruppers selected Spendthrift Farm’s Into Mischief, whose stock was about to skyrocket. That spring, the stallion put two horses from his first crop in the Derby in Goldencents and Vyjack. Goldencents went on to win two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, while Vyjack is a graded stakes winner on both dirt and turf.

Into Mischief is also the sire of 2014 Louisiana Derby winner Vicar’s in Trouble and, powered by Practical Joke, was North America’s leading juvenile sire last year. He has another Kentucky Derby hopeful this year in Southwest Stakes winner One Liner.

“We just thought it was a good cross,” Crupper said. “We were trying to look for something to nick with her – it crosses so well with the Distorted Humor line. [Into Mischief] was a good value at that point; he’s still a good value. I think we bought four seasons to him that year, and [Halo Humor is] the only mare we kept. We sold the rest of them. As he kept getting hotter, we kept selling them off.”

Practical Joke was initially slated to be sold as a weanling at the 2014 Keeneland November breeding stock sale but wound up scratching from that spot and selling two months later for $135,000 to Clear Ridge Stables as a short yearling at Keeneland January.

“He was entered in November as a weanling, and we thought he just needed a little bit of time,” Crupper said. “So, we pushed him to January, and obviously he ended up where he was supposed to be. But he was always a very nice colt, very forward.”

Later that year, Practical Joke was a successful $240,000 pinhook at the Keeneland September yearling sale, and he now races for Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence. The colt won his first three starts, including the Hopeful and Champagne, before finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He finished second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes to start his 3-year-old campaign.

“There are a couple question marks about how far he ultimately wants to go, and I think that’s fair,” trainer Chad Brown said. “His two two-turn races, he didn’t sustain his run in the stretch. I feel like the horse did have some legitimate excuses in both starts. Breeders’ Cup, he had a hard race in the Champagne, and maybe he was a little flat.

“I think maybe he just needed that race in the Fountain of Youth. He hadn’t run since the Breeders’ Cup, and he made a big move on the turn and looked like a tired horse in the lane to me. He showed a lot of heart to still battle for second. I think the horse is fit and ready to run a mile and an eighth if he can.”

Meanwhile, back at Whispering Oaks, Halo Humor is again in foal to Into Mischief for 2018. If Practical Joke adds another major victory to his résumé, the Cruppers could have the last laugh.