Venerable Successful Dan is morning-line choice in Woodward field

The gaps in Successful Dan’s past performances are as glaring as they are lengthy – which is exactly why trainer Charlie LoPresti remains adamant in his desire for everyone to see what first jumped out at him four summers ago.

Hiatuses of 14 months, 17 months and his last break of nearly 10 months illustrate the physical woes which have  plagued the 7-year-old Successful Appeal gelding since his sophomore year of 2009. In a particularly sadistic twist, the suspensory issues which have haunted Successful Dan  in his 14 career starts seem to wait until he is on the verge of his best form before resurfacing to stymie the whole process.

Lost in his comeback upon comeback is the fact that, before injury ever touched him, Successful Dan was the first horse to give LoPresti a taste of the high-level success that has become the barn norm. When Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Woodward Stakes concludes, LoPresti hopes the horse who bestowed him with his first career graded stakes triumph exits with a top-level designation all his own.

Backing up LoPresti’s long held belief that a sound Successful Dan could be among the handicap division’s best, Morton Fink’s homebred gelding was installed as the 5-to-2 morning line favorite out of post No. 2 in a field of seven entered Wednesday for the 1 1/8-miles Woodward at Saratoga.

Of the Woodward field, which also includes Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, 7-to-2 second choice Flat Out and sentimental favorite Paynter, only Successful Dan and Mucho Macho Man are not yet Grade I winners.

A great source of comfort to LoPresti while Successful Dan battled his ailments is the fact he has developed his younger half brother Wise Dan into the beast that is the reigning Horse of the Year. Still, ever since Successful Dan won the Grade III Northern Dancer in 2009, the first graded score for himself and his trainer, LoPresti has pegged the large-bodied bay as one of the best he’s ever laid hands on.

“It would mean more to me (for Successful Dan to win the Woodward) probably than any race that I’ve ever won,” LoPresti said during a teleconference this week. “I don’t say that lightly, because I’ve won a Breeders’ Cup race, I’ve won Grade Is. But I just think that this particular horse, we’ve been through so much with him, I would just like for everybody to see that he is as good a horse as I’ve said all along.

“It would mean a great deal for me to see this horse win. He has a special place in all our hearts.”

Successful Dan’s ability when he is right supports LoPresti’s sentiment as he has eight wins, four graded stakes triumphs and a track record in his start-stop career.

His Grade I ventures have had a similarly hard-luck theme, though. In 2010, Successful Dan crossed the wire first in the Grade I Clark Handicap only to be disqualified to third for interference. Earlier this month as he headed onto the track for what would be a runner-up finish behind Cross Traffic in the Grade I Whitney, Successful Dan got worked up and fell over coming through the paddock, unseating jockey Julien Leparoux.

“It is kind of frustrating. I mean every time he has come into his own and really started to show the kind of horse he is, there’s always something that goes wrong with him,” LoPresti said. “I think I had him pretty sharp for (the Whitney). I don’t really know why he did it. I’ve got to think that maybe it took a little bit out of him when he hit the ground as hard as he did. So maybe he wasn’t into the race, the first part of it, but he made up a lot of ground and he ran really hard.”

Fort Larned got the best of Successful Dan in both the 2012 Grade III Cornhusker Handicap and the Grade I Stephen Foster this June. However, the Ian Wilkes-trainee ran flat after rating just off the pace in the Whitney, fading to fifth for his third loss this year.

Paynter, who has comeback from a near fatal bout of colitis and early onset of laminitis, should be going right with Fort Larned early on setting up for Successful Dan to theoretically sit closer than in the Whitney.

One of LoPresti’s favorite pre-race mantras is as long his horses “run good and come back good, I’ll be happy”-  something that will carry even more weight when he saddles Successful Dan and Grade I winner Turallure, who runs in the Grade II Bernard Baruch Saturday.

This past Sunday, LoPresti lost a horse to a fatal race breakdown for the first time in his career when the 5-year-old gelding Kris Royal fractured his left front leg in the ninth race at Saratoga, a 1 1/8-mile turf contest.

“It’s taken a couple of days and I’m still not over it,” LoPresti said of Kris Royal’s breakdown. “That means more to me than talking about these big races really.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.