04/19/2012 12:54PM

Keeneland: Lopresti brings out his big guns

Barbara D. Livingston
Charlie Lopresti sends Wise Dan in the Ben Ali. His other stars Successful Dan and Turallure have also run at the meet.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – It was late February, and like many horsemen across the country, Charlie Lopresti was laying the groundwork for a big spring meet at Keeneland.

Only Lopresti wasn’t basking in the winter warmth of Palm Meadows or Gulfstream Park or Fair Grounds. He was at chilly Keeneland, nearly alone, on a Saturday morning when he sent his three best horses through serious workouts.

“This is just what works for me,” said Lopresti, whose refusal to travel away from Keeneland and his nearby farm during the winter months sets him apart from his more prominent national colleagues. “I’m fortunate enough that I’ve got owners that let me do it like this. I know the economics of the game means that most trainers need to keep racing, but we like to give the horses a little break, just like horsemen used to do it years ago.”

Lopresti and his wife, Amy, are your basic 1 and 1A in what has evolved from little more than a small breaking-and-boarding outfit into a larger-scale equine operation that includes a public stable with a delightfully lopsided percentage of Grade 1 runners. Although Lopresti, 54, has been a licensed trainer since 1993, he and Amy primarily busied themselves for years by raising young horses for a select list of clients on their 200-acre Forest Lane Farm just east of Lexington while also leading over the occasional runner to the racetrack.

In the last two years or so, however, things have changed dramatically. Less than halfway into this 15-day spring meet, the Lopresti stable has already made its presence felt in the elite section of the Keeneland condition book with Successful Dan, an impressive winner of a stakes-caliber allowance race on opening day, and Turallure, narrowly defeated as the favorite in the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile on April 13.

On Sunday, the last of the powerful Lopresti triumvirate will get a seasonal unveiling when Wise Dan goes as a major contender in the Grade 3, $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes.

“Sometimes I just don’t know what to think about how all these good horses ended up here at the same time,” Lopresti said. “It’s amazing. It really is. Just four or five years ago, I was ready to quit. I remember telling Amy, ‘Let’s stop running these slow horses and just focus on the farm.’ ”

That was in the lean years of 2006-2008, when stable earnings averaged $144,000 annually. But in 2010, Here Comes Ben gave Lopresti the first Grade 1 victory of his career when he upset the Forego at Saratoga, and those other three horses started showing major promise. Lopresti ended 2010 with stable earnings of just more than $1 million, and in 2011, that total had ballooned to $2,337,000, a career high by miles.

“I really think Charlie should have gotten some votes for trainer of the year last year, considering all he accomplished with a small stable,” said Richard Klein, whose Louisville-based family has sent its young horses to the Loprestis for breaking and training for more than 20 years. “He is a horseman in the truest sense. He gives them the time they need and does everything the right way. I think a lot of people are happy to see him and Amy getting the rewards they deserve.”

Before his recent return from a layoff of 16 months, Successful Dan finished first in the 2010 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs but was disqualified to third. Turallure won the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile and was beaten maybe an inch by Court Vision in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Mile.

For their next starts, Successful Dan is being pointed to the Alysheba Stakes on the May 4 Kentucky Oaks undercard at Churchill, and Turallure is set to run the following day in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Derby undercard.

Wise Dan is expected to face a solid Ben Ali cast Sunday that includes Cease, Rescue Squad, and Rogue Romance. A 5-year-old gelding, Wise Dan closed 2011 by romping to a 3 3/4-length triumph in the Grade 1 Clark.

“I’m going to say the same thing about him that I said about the others,” Lopresti said. “Off the bench, you want them to win, but as long as he runs like the other two did and shows me he’s the same horse I put away last year, I’m going to be happy.

“We’ve got high hopes this year for all three of these horses,” he said. “I was extremely pleased with the way the first two ran. I thought Successful Dan got pretty tired and that he got there on his heart, and Turallure, he ran just great. If Wise Dan runs like they did, our whole winter program for them will have been a success in getting them through these first hurdles.”

Lopresti said if he ever comes up with a Kentucky Derby hopeful, he might have to rethink staying home in the winter. But that hasn’t happened yet, and he is happy with the status quo.

“The farm is 365 days a year,” he said, “and besides, I just feel like I can do a better job staying here.”