Friday, August 5, 2011
Dickey hopes for Flat Out victory
By Claire Novak
Special to ESPN.com
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY -- Is Flat Out the best runner Charles "Scooter" Dickey has ever trained?
"Looks like he's gonna be," the amicable horseman said Friday morning, one day before starting his Suburban Handicap winner in the Grade 1 $750,000 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. "He's just a different horse from most of them."
Well-settled in Barn 29 after shipping in from Monmouth Park on Tuesday morning, the 5-year-old son of Flatter barely looked up from his feed tub. His dark bay coat was gleaming and his muscles rippled. Compact and broad-chested, he had the look of a Thoroughbred built to accomplish serious business on the racetrack -- and on Saturday, that's what 70-year-old Dickey expects him to do.
"I thought he was a good horse, but he didn't get to go ahead and prove it as a 3-year-old," he said. "Now that we've got him where he is, he's showing us his ability."
Last time out, Jack Preston's powerful runner romped to a 6 ½-length victory on July 2 in the Grade 2 Suburban going 1 1/8 miles at Belmont Park. It was a redeeming win off a sixth-place finish along the inside at the same distance in the June 18 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs (most winners that day were closing from the outside). The loss only came by 2 ¾ lengths against many of the same horses who will run in the Whitney.
Just having Flat Out in condition to compete is an accomplishment that required all 48 years of Dickey's training experience. Chronic quarter cracks have plagued the runner for most of his career, and a fractured shoulder once necessitated a 20-month hiatus from the races. After breaking his maiden at Fair Grounds and winning the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in 2009, he was considered a potential Kentucky Derby contender, but his efforts in the Southwest Stakes (4th) and Arkansas Derby (6th) were less than inspiring. He came out of the latter with the shoulder injury that put him on the shelf from April 2009 to December 2010. That month, he came back in an allowance race at Fair Grounds which he won, but the quarter cracks cut into his training schedule again and he did not make his first start of 2011 until the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 30 (he finished second by a length before going to the Foster).
"In January, he had four bar shoes on," Dickey said. "We had to take one hoof almost all the way down, like they did with Big Brown. Now, he's doing much better. He has regular shoes on. It's been hard, but you know, he'd already showed talent. I knew he was a good horse, but I didn't know how good he was.
The way he won the Smarty Jones, I thought he was a good horse there. We knew he could run, just not that much."
With an automatic berth in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic -- entry fees paid -- and a spot at the top of the handicap division on the line in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney, Dickey hopes Flat Out will improve off his career- best performance in the Suburban. The horse earned his highest Beyer Speed Figure, 113, in the race. It was also the highest figure earned on dirt this year beyond one mile.
The Suburban marked the first time Dickey had saddled a horse at Belmont Park in 20 years, although he campaigned several horses at Saratoga in 2008 (Flat Out trained here then as a 2-year-old, but did not run until that November when the string had moved to Churchill). A former jockey who started riding on the bush tracks in Kansas and Oklahoma when he was 12 years old, Dickey "got too heavy, finished high school, married my wife Dana, and got a trainer's license in 1963 in Colorado." He has conditioned runners all over the East Coast and the Midwest, and now lives in Louisville traveling a circuit of Churchill Downs, Oaklawn Park, and Monmouth Park.
"You can't believe how satisfying it was to win the last race," he said. "I've won stakes races in New York and here and there, but I've never had a horse of this quality. When you've done this all your life, to come across one this good is pretty special."
Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the Thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets. You can reach her via her website.
I thought he was a good horse, but he didn't get to go ahead and prove it as a 3-year-old. Now that we've got him where he is, he's showing us his ability.
-- Trainer Scooter Dickey