11/24/2010 2:15PM

Lopresti sending out big gun in Successful Dan

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Successful Dan, Julien Leparoux up, wins the Fayette.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A pretty big deal was made about Charlie Lopresti making it to the Breeders’ Cup earlier this month with two horses. Lopresti trains only 16 head at his Keeneland base, and yet Here Comes Ben and Wise Dan both were legitimate contenders in their respective races.

Funny thing, but neither is the best horse in the barn, according to Lopresti’s careful assessment. That in-house honor would belong to Successful Dan, who will carry high weight of 121 pounds as a major player Friday in the 136th running of the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

“I would say Successful Dan is probably the best of the three, and I don’t say that lightly,” said Lopresti. “He’s a really, really nice horse.”

Successful Dan, with Julien Leparoux back aboard, will start from post 3 in a field of 11 in the $500,000 Clark, a 1 1/8-mile race that will be run under the Churchill lights at 5:42 p.m. Eastern.

After starting his career by going 3 for 3 as a 3-year-old, including a victory in the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill over the highly regarded Warrior’s Reward, Successful Dan was sidelined by injury for 14 months before warming back to action this summer. He has four starts this year, ending with a pair of bang-up triumphs at Keeneland, most notably a three-length score in the Fayette Stakes on closing day.

“Those two races at Keeneland speak for themselves,” said Lopresti. “Julien has been really impressed with him, and the horse is doing really well coming up to this.”

Starting just to the inside of Successful Dan in post 2 will be the other wagering favorite, Apart, whose 118-pound assignment makes him a theoretical co-highweight, considering older horses are asked to concede three pounds to 3-year-olds at this time of year, all other things being equal. Apart represents owner Adele Dilschnider and trainer Al Stall Jr., who won the Clark last year on their way to even greater things this year with Blame.

Garrett Gomez, who rode Blame to win the BC Classic here nearly three weeks ago, has the mount on Apart, who brings a three-race win streak to the Clark.

Besides Successful Dan and Apart, the Clark also drew its familiar assortment of accomplished runners, none more distinguished than Brass Hat, the 9-year-old gelding who has become a genuine fan favorite through his exploits and longevity. Tony Farina replaces the injured Calvin Borel aboard Brass Hat, who got post 6.

Other viable Clark possibilities include Redding Colliery, a New York shipper who led wire to wire in capturing the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup in his most recent start; Stately Victor, the only other 3-year-old in the field and the winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes earlier in the year; Florida shipper Duke of Mischief, whose wins in such fixtures as the Oaklawn and Iselin handicaps have helped build a bankroll of more than $950,000; and the uncoupled Paul McGee duo of Dubious Miss, who surely needed his last start in the Fayette when returning from a six-month layoff, and Demarcation, the Ack Ack runner-up who adds Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, who won the Clark 22 years ago for McGee aboard Balthazar B.

Rounding out the deep cast are Giant Oak, Win Willy, and Regal Ransom.

In terms of race strategy, the Clark certainly isn’t lacking for pace, as Redding Colliery and Regal Ransom not only have excellent early speed, but both should be raring to go, being fresh from eight-week layoffs. A too-fast scenario might well lead to one of the stalkers, such as Successful Dan, Apart, or Dubious Miss, getting the coveted first run, or even a deep closer such as Brass Hat, Stately Victor, or Demarcation ultimately coming through in what clearly shapes up as a fascinating renewal of this ancient event.

The Clark, won through the years by such greats as Exterminator (1922), Whirlaway (1943), Silver Charm (1998), Saint Liam (2004), and Blame (2009), dates all the way back to 1875, the same year the Kentucky Derby and Oaks were first run. It is carded Friday as the 11th of 12 races.

The Friday after Thanksgiving always draws the biggest ontrack crowd of the Churchill fall meet, not counting the Breeders’ Cup. First post is 12:40 p.m., with the last race going at 6:10.

Some of the coldest weather so far this season is in the forecast for Friday, with the high temperature expected to hit just 41.