Scott Lake was staring up at the San Gabriel Mountains that rise majestically behind Santa Anita. His Breeders' Cup starter was cooling out in the barn behind him.
"A bit more picturesque than the Jericho Turnpike," Lake joked.
The Jericho Turnpike runs beside Belmont Park.
This is a man who last year put 130,000 miles on his vehicle. He knows a bit about turnpikes and freeways. This year, he has 165 horses spread out between New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.
While Lake tries to spend at least one day a week at each location where he has horses, right now he is concentrating his personal attention on just one of those 165 horses -- Shake You Down, who will start Oct. 25 in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I).
"I feel like I'm on vacation," Lake said, again staring at the breathtaking view of the mountains as the sun rose on the site of this year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
But make no mistake about it; Lake is not on vacation. Though he may be enjoying the beauty and warmth of Southern California, he is intent on winning the Sprint with a horse he claimed for Robert Cole Jr. earlier this year for $65,000.
"I thought he would be a good higher-level claiming horse, maybe an allowance horse, maybe even work in some small stakes at Delaware," he said of the 5-year-old Montbrook gelding.
After claiming Shake You Down, however, Lake saw a transformation in the new arrival to his barn.
"The first thing was he put on about 200 pounds," Lake recalled. "They were having some problems with his blood counts. Those got better. His coat began to look good and he filled out."
All Shake You Down has done is win six of seven starts since Lake claimed him for Cole, who owns a mortgage company in Glen Burnie, Md. Cole, 40, keeps 10-20 horses with Lake, the number fluctuating because the owner likes to aggressively claim horses and also sell them the same way as well as privately.
In fact, Cole had an attractive offer recently to sell Shake You Down, but Lake urged him to turn it down. He did.
Right after being claimed, Shake You Down won two allowance races at Aqueduct this spring. But Lake wondered about those races because of the track condition.
"They were both in the slop, so you wondered if the track condition was a factor."
He then won the Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III) and the trainer was convinced. After taking the True North Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), Shake You Down was shipped to Calder where the Florida-bred won the Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. III).
Lake was more than convinced.
"People told me horses just don't ship into Calder without a work over the track and run the kind of race he ran," Lake said. Shake You Down ran the six furlongs in 1:10, won off by 8 ¼ lengths under a hand ride, and got a Beyer Speed Figure of 121.
Shake You Down followed that effort with a fourth-place finish in the A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II), but Lake believes he knows the reason why.
"This is a horse that likes an off track, but he did not like the slop at Saratoga," the 38-year-old trainer said.
A month later, in his final Breeders' Cup prep, Shake You Down won an allowance race at Belmont. The horse shipped early to Santa Anita, arriving Oct. 13. Lake followed three days later.
"I wanted to let him acclimate because the weather is so different," Lake said. "This way he could gallop and work over the race track.
On Monday, Shake You Down had his final tune-up, going five furlongs in :45 1/5. Mike Luzzi, who will ride him in the Sprint, flew in for the work.
Interestingly, there are not many front-runners in this year's Sprint. Shake You Down can run on the lead, but Lake said he actually prefers a horse in front of him for the first eighth of a mile.
"He likes to be outside and if a horse is ahead of him at the start of the race, he really pounces and gets very tough," he said.
Last year, Lake's first Breeders' Cup starter, Thunderello, drew the one hole in the Sprint.
"I told Edgar (Prado) that he had to go from there," Lake said. "We didn't have any choice."
Three different jockeys that hade ridden Thunderello told Lake he was the fast horse they had ever been on. He showed that in the Breeders' Cup.
At nearly 50-1, Thunderello very nearly stole the Sprint, running a game second to Orientate. Thunderello ran fractions of :21.53, :43.91, and :56.09. Orientate hit the wire in 1:08.89.
This year, he has a colt that will be one of the favorites.
Lake deals with many claiming horses; some work out; some don't.
"It's the nature of the claiming game," he said. "This horse has been a dream. He does everything so easily."
With those claiming horses, Lake finished fifth last year by earnings, with $8.2 million. This year, he ranks fifth through late September.
Last year on Breeders' Cup day, Lake won seven races at other tracks. "One was a $4,000 claimer and that meant as much to me as Thunderello's race," he said. "My job is to win races."
On Oct. 25, having trained for just a dozen years, he has a chance to win the biggest of his young career.