-By Dick Jerardi
When Scott Lake won his 5,999th the day before Easter, he knew he was going to have to cancel his early afternoon flight to Florida the day after Easter. He was going to an Ocala sale, but that would have to wait a few hours. He would be going for win No. 6,000 first.
Lake certainly did not win all those races because he did not know his horses. In fact, he felt very confident that first time starter I’m the Talent was ready to run big on April 22 in the fifth race at Parx.
When asked before the race what running style the 3-year-old filly would demonstrate, Lake said he expected her to show speed. Lake was right, of course.
I’m the Talent, as so many Lake horses have done through his now-three-decade training career, went right to the front, tracked by 4-5 favorite Charly’s Charm.
Watching calmly on television alongside girlfriend Sarah White and her daughter Isabella at his table in Parx’s paddock-side restaurant, Lake said nothing until the far turn of the six furlong race. It was then that he urged exercise rider-turned-jockey-for-a-day Luis Villanueva, who had only ridden four winners since 2015, to “stop looking around and open up”.
Not sure how the jockey heard him through the TV, but somehow he knew what to do. Villanueva let I’m the Talent loose and she was gone—way gone—a 6 3/4 length winner.
Lake kissed Sarah, hugged Isabella, and was congratulated by everybody he saw on his way to the winner’s circle.
With the 28,149th starter of his career, Scott Lake, 53, had become just the sixth trainer in history to win 6,000 races. Only Dale Baird (9,445), Steve Asmussen (8,409), Jerry Hollendorfer (7,590), Jack Van Berg (6,523) and King Leatherbury (6,501) are ahead of him.
“It’s unbelievable, stressful getting to this point,” Lake said after all the pictures were taken. “Everybody’s building it up. I understand it’s big. It’s fantastic. For all my help, for all my owners, every horse I had the pleasure of putting the tack on. It means the world to us.”
From 2000 to 2009, Lake won an incredible 4,130 races. He once had 287 horses in barns from New York to West Virginia, but it was at Parx in the early 2000s when his career really took off and it was only fitting that it was at Parx where he won No. 6,000.
“I just wanted to be in this business in some capacity,” Lake said. “For it to happen and become what it’s become, it’s just unbelievable. It’s a little surreal.”
Lake got 6,000 on his first try so he only had to wait two days and blow a mere $350 to change his flight to later on the day he got there. And he “knew” he was getting there.
“She’s been working really well and she just does everything so easy,” Lake said of I’m the Talent. “We were confident coming in here, but you have that monkey on your back so you’re a little nervous.”
Now, Lake can just go back to winning races. He has cut way back on numbers, but he still wins.
“I’m happy with maybe 125 wins a year, keeping maybe around 70-80 horses in training,” Lake said. “We scaled back; I spend more time with my kids and everything. I have no complaints with the decisions I’ve made and what we’ve done and where we’re at in the business now.”
When Lake was growing up, he knew the names of the trainers who would hit 6,000. Now, he is there with them.
“It means the world,” Lake said. “These guys become your idols. One day you wake up and you’re sixth all-time and you’re ‘wow, how did this happen?’ It’s kind of baffling to me that we got to where we are.”
Lake obviously has many more winners in his future.
The next goal?
“7,000,” Lake said. “Knock off Leatherbury first.”
It will take a few years, but the King and Van Berg are squarely in Lake’s sights. After that, who knows?