Trainer Scooter Dickey has plenty to smile about with Breeders’ Cup Classic hopeful Flat Out in his barn on Thursday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.AP PHOTO
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Flat Out is taking Scooter Dickey places the 70-year-old trainer has never been. He’s hoping their next trip is to the winner’s circle after the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Flat Out is the best horse of Dickey’s nearly 50-year career and the first to win a Grade 1 stakes for him. He came to Dickey as a promising 2-year-old in 2008, and the trainer has seen Flat Out through a history of foot problems to reach North America’s richest race.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Dickey said, standing inside a stall piled with bags of feed. “Come Saturday, I’ll get nervous about the time we start putting the saddle on.”
Dickey will have family and friends on hand Saturday at Churchill Downs, where he’s based. Dana, his wife of 48 years who has an incurable liver disease and has waited years to receive a transplant, will gather her strength to attend.
At 6-1 on the morning line, Flat Out earned a spot in the Classic by winning the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont last month over Drosselmeyer and Stay Thirsty, two of the 11 horses he’ll face in the 1 1/4 -mile race.
Flat Out has been one of the most consistent handicap horses in the country this year, finishing first or second in five of his six starts. He lost to filly Havre de Grace (another Classic contender) in the Woodward Stakes and finished second to Tizway in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
It’s obvious the affection Dickey has for the horse that has gotten him to some of the biggest races at Belmont, Saratoga, Churchill Downs and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Like a proud parent, he shows visitors a cell phone photo of Flat Out in his stall holding a newspaper in his mouth with the horse’s picture on the front from Saratoga.
“He’s younger today than he’s been in 10 years,” trainer and longtime friend Larry Jones said. “He has more bounce in his step. He’s got the bigger smile. I am so tickled for Scooter.”
In a sport rife with jealousy, Dickey is well-regarded for his perseverance and hard work during a career in which he’s never had a horse in the Triple Crown races and only now has one in the season-ending Breeders’ Cup.
“I told him, ‘Enjoy the ride and have your wife dress you so you look presentable,”’ joked Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a friend since their days running horses at bush tracks in Kansas and Nebraska.
Dickey is from tiny Anthony, Kan., where he was named Charles at birth before his father dubbed him “Scooter” because he scooted rather than crawled.
A friend’s uncle who was a trainer first put Dickey on horses at the half-mile track in Anthony and he began riding in races at 12. Eventually, he grew too heavy to be a jockey. He graduated from high school and went to college in between working nights at a Boeing factory.
“I couldn’t work indoors,” Dickey said, citing his reason for taking out his trainer’s license in 1963.
In recent years, Dickey’s stable twice dwindled to one horse and he was forced to take a job as a farm manager to pay the bills.
Then along came Flat Out, who was included in a group of 2-year-olds that Dickey was in charge of taking to Saratoga.
“I didn’t realize how good he was,” he said.
Now 5, Flat Out is a relatively fresh horse because his previous foot problems and a shoulder injury have limited him to 12 starts.
He’s finished in the money in eight of those and earned $1.1 million. He’ll be ridden by Alex Solis, a 47-year-old jockey enjoying success again after a long drought.
The prospect of winning the Classic “would be great,” said Dickey, who has enjoyed hearing from old friends, former classmates and jockeys who used to ride for him as a result of Flat Out’s exploits.
Dickey and Jones, who trains early second choice Havre de Grace in the Classic, visit the Churchill Downs chaplain together. Jones drew Dickey’s name out of a hat as someone to pray for this summer.
“Have I done too good a job in praying for him?” Jones said, laughing.
“If we don’t win, it would be just wonderful to watch Scooter win it. I could root for him after I say, ‘Oh, crap.’ I want him to be at his very best because if I beat him, then he ain’t got nothing to complain about.”