The aptly-named Hickory Trick brought Scott Lake his 4,000th career win Oct. 31 while the leading Mid-Atlantic trainer was trick-or-treating with his children on Halloween night. Saddled by assistant Ralph Wernimont, the gelded son of Clever Trick went wire-to-wire as the favorite in a six-furlong claiming event at Penn National.
For Lake, who splits approximately 225 horses between Philadelphia Park, Delaware Park, Pimlico, Laurel, Charles Town, and Penn National, the events leading up to the 4,000 mark were also fitting.
“We had two in at Delaware and were two wins away from 4,000 and we won a race there, then we had a horse in at Laurel that was beaten a length or two," Lake said. “Finally, this one went off as the favorite and got it done.”
Lake, 42, began training in 1987. Through Oct. 31, his horses had compiled purse earinings of $70,997,274. He built his stable up to its current status by climbing the claiming ranks and moving several of his key claiming finds to stakes company. He has had much success in the Claiming Crown, a championship day for claiming horses each year, his six wins leading all trainers in Claiming Crown victories. Lake also saddled Thunderello to a near-upset in the 2002 TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I), the colt beaten just half a length by Orientate.
“I started training at Penn and racing at Penn and when you’re doing that you don’t really think, ‘Hey, I’m gonna win 4,000 races running at Penn,’” the trainer said. “It’s funny because I can think back to when I hit 500 (winners) and thought that was a huge milestone. I just did the best I could claiming horses and I never dreamed it would turn out the way it did.”
A native of Harrisburg, Pa., Lake was the nation’s leading trainer by races won in 2006, saddling 528 winners for a victory percentage of 24%. In spite of serving a 30-day suspension for a clenbuterol positive handed down by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board Dec. 24-Jan. 22, thus far this year Lake ranks at the top again, with 402 winners compared to the 393 saddled by runner-up Steve Asmussen.
Juggling a hectic schedule and many responsibilities, Lake still makes time for his family. He has an 8-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and two children (ages four and 21 months) with his wife, Jennifer.
“My kids are definitely the most important thing to me,” said Lake. “Most of the time over the last couple years I’ve been going to barn in the mornings but not going to the races much, and that’s because of the kids, because I want to spend time with them. I watch from home in the afternoons, and I’ve gotten lucky. I have a lot of owners that understand and it’s all good.”
Of Hickory Trick, Lake said, “He’s a nice cheap horse that’s honest and tries hard. His owners (Winners Circle Partners IV) signed with me at Penn National and when we got him in our program he started doing good. He’s been trying hard every start since we got him.”
And of the reaching the milestone, Lake had just one more comment to make:
“On to 5,000.”