Trainer Charlie LoPresti has the somewhat enviable if daunting task of bringing several top-level horses back off the bench this spring at Keeneland, including 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan, his half-brother Successful Dan, and 2011 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) winner Turallure.
The latter is the 8-5 favorite on the morning line for a salty April 6 allowance race that features grade II winners Al Khali, Air Support, and Forte Dei Marmi, along with grade III winners Howe Great and Middie. Allowance winner Sky Blazer is the lone outsider of the bunch, and even he is graded stakes placed.
"It is a tough spot," LoPresti said of the $68,000 event, carded as the fourth with an approximate post time of 2:41 p.m. EDT. "There are a lot of horses that have been running and some people yesterday were saying it could almost be a stakes race."
Turallure, a 6-year-old son of Wando bred and owned by Donna Arnold's Four D Stables, has not run since a fourth-place finish in the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) last July at Churchill Downs. The earner of more than $1.3 million in purses notched his most recent victory with a neck score in the September 2011 Woodbine Mile at Woodbine; he missed winning the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) by a nose behind 64-1 upsetter Court Vision in November of 2011, and was second by a neck to Data Link in the Makers' 46 Mile (gr. IT) one year ago.
Turallure finished seventh in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) of 2012 before running in the Firecracker. Dr. Larry Bramlage of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital detected bruising in the big gray's cannon bones, after which he was given the time off at LoPresti's Forest Lane Farm near Lexington. He has turned in a steady work pattern at Keeneland since coming back off the layup in January, and recorded his most recent breeze March 26 with a handy six furlongs in 1:13 flat.
"He had a monster breeze last week," LoPresti said. "He broke off behind some horses—they were like 12 lengths ahead of him—he had to work real hard to catch 'em, he caught 'em, and it took a little bit out of him. He's ready to go. The race this coming Saturday makes sense. If he runs good opening (weekend), then I've got a chance maybe to go in the Woodford with him. He's gotta' come back the way he was. He doesn't have to win, but I want a good race out of him, I want to see him coming at the end, and finishing."
LoPresti has had his share of frustrations with Turallure, who was bred in Kentucky out of the Wekiva Springs mare Personal Allure, but those frustrations have been tempered by moments of brilliance. Although the runner took six starts to break his maiden in 2010, once he did he won three straight. He registered his first graded stakes-placed effort in that year's edition of the Commonwealth Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Churchill, but next ran a disappointing eighth in the Maker's Mark Mile.
It was not until a breakthrough victory by 2 1/4 lengths over Get Stormy in the 2011 edition of the 1 1/8-mile Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course that Turallure hit his best stride. He parlayed that win into the Woodbine Mile to string together his best career performances to date.
"You always wonder with a horse like that," LoPresti said. "Sometimes you wonder about those older colts, maybe now they don't care about running for whatever reason. Maybe when he got beat to Data Link last year, maybe he said 'You know what, I'm not the same horse I was.' I hope that's not the case, but you don't ever know until you run.
"He seems like he does (want to run) right now," the trainer continued. "We put him on the grass the other day and galloped him and he looked like a monster. That's the first time he's been on the grass since the Firecracker. I know he was second in the Breeders' Cup Mile and he won the Mile race at Woodbine, but maybe everything set up for him. I think he's truly better going a mile and a sixteenth, mile and an eighth. To run a mile, you've got to have a little bit of tactical speed like Wise Dan does, or you have to be like Data Link where he's going to have to really punch it the last three eighths of a mile. I think Turallure's more of one who can sit back there behind a real hot pace and if it comes back to him it works to his advantage, like it did at the Breeders' Cup. I mean, he got beat, but still, he was flying at the end."
The 2-1 second choice on the morning line for the upcoming allowance event is Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable's Al Khali, a 7-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro who comes off a head win for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in a 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Downs allowance March 9. That race was his first off the bench after a runner-up effort to four-time grade I winner Point of Entry in the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) last August and a neck loss to Wigmore Hall in Woodbine's Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (Can-IT) in September. Al Khali's last graded score came in the 2010 Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park.
Air Support won the 2012 edition of that race for Stuart S. Janney III and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey in September and also counts the 2011 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) among his tallies. The 5-year-old son of Smart Strike has not raced since a fifth-place finish in the Pattison Canadian International Stakes (Can-IT) last October at Woodbine. He is co-third choice at 4-1 with Stella Perdomo's 2012 Sky Classic Stakes (Can-IIT) winner Forte Dei Marmi, a 7-year-old Selkirk gelding trained by Roger Attfield who was third in the Canadian International. Forte Dei Marmi had one start after; an eighth in the W. L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder Race Course & Slots last November.
Howe Great was seventh last time out in the Feb. 23 Canadian Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) for Team Valor International and trainer H. Graham Motion; Sky Blazer was eighth in the Jan. 12 Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (gr. IIT) for Joyce B. Young and Gerald McManis and trainer Barclay Tagg; Middie has not started for trainer Philip Oliver since registering a seventh in the River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill last November for G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and St. George Farm Racing.
Keeneland Race 4, 2:41 p.m. ET, 4YOs & Up, 1 1/8 miles (turf)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
1. Sky Blazer (KY), E.S. Prado, B Tagg, 20-1
2. Turallure (KY), J.R. Leparoux, C LoPresti, 8-5
3. Howe Great (KY), J. Rocco, Jr., H G Motion, 12-1
4. Forte Dei Marmi (GB), R. Napravnik, R L Attfield, 4-1
5. Middie (KY), F.C. Torres, P J Oliver, 15-1
6. Al Khali (KY), M.E. Smith, W I Mott, 2-1
7. Air Support (KY), R. Albarado, C R McGaughey III, 4-1
Equipment Changes: #7, Air Support, Blinkers On