Scott Lake trains 98 horses - 46 at Pimlico and 52 at Philadelphia Park. It seems that every one's a winner.
Lake, 35, has trained more winners this year than any other horseman in the United States. His horses won 141 races through Wednesday, three more than perennial leading trainer Dale Baird, based at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia.
And Lake sent far fewer horses to the starting gate, 370 compared with Baird's 740. Lake's winning percentage is 38. In addition, his horses finished second 69 times and third 41 times. His in-the-money percentage is 68.
In a word, that's phenomenal.
"Everybody thinks something like this just falls into your lap," Lake said. "It's a lot of work. It's paying attention to details.
"I've got fantastic help. They'd lie down in front of a train for me, and I'd do the same for them. I've got really good owners who let me do what I've got to do to win money."
Lake would have even more winners this year if one of his horses had not tested positive for clenbuterol at Pimlico. Lake served a 15-day suspension, and during that period his horses won 10 races - but not in his name. Lake also served suspensions in 1998 and 1999 for drug positives.
"I hear about it all the time," he said of accusations that his horses run well because of illegal drugs. "I just make jokes about it. When you have as many horses as I do, mistakes are going to happen."
For instance, he said, the clenbuterol positive was the result of a groom's mistakenly giving a horse the drug the day before a race. Lake said he uses clenbuterol, which helps horses breathe, during training. That is legal. But guidelines in Maryland call for taking horses off clenbuterol seven days before a race.
Lake has spent most of his life around the racetrack. His father worked for a trainer at Penn National and claimed a horse about 1976. Lake was 11 or 12. He learned to walk horses and clean stalls.
"I just loved it," Lake said. "All I ever wanted to do was work at the racetrack."
He obtained his trainer's license in 1987 and worked at Penn National until last year, when he relocated to Philadelphia Park. During Preakness week this year, he moved half his horses to Pimlico.
He claims most of them. He said he often looks for horses who've gone off form but have done something notable in the past. His goal is to bring them back to their peak form, or as near to peak as possible.
With older horses, he said, he usually cuts back their training and increases their racing.
"I run a little more often and train a little lighter," Lake said. "Older horses especially seem to respond to that."
Also, he said, he runs horses where they can win. He's not afraid to lose horses in claiming races.
"There are a million horses out there," Lake said. "If I lose a horse, I'm not afraid to take one back."
His methods work. He's battling fellow trainer Dale Capuano for the lead in wins at Laurel Park. He is two wins from ranking fourth at Delaware Park. And at Philadelphia Park, he towers above his colleagues, leading the next-best trainer 77 wins to 35.
Lake has saddled only one graded stakes winner in his career, the former claimer Leave It To Beezer in the Grade III Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap at Pimlico. But he is satisfied winning at any level.
"If the big horse comes along, fine," Lake said. "But if I can walk into the winner's circle once every day the rest of my life, I'm going to be happy."
Also among the best
Maryland-based Capuano also ranks high in the country. Stabled at Laurel, Capuano ranks fifth nationally in wins through Wednesday, tied at 92 with northern California trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Maryland also boasts three jockeys among the country's top 10 in wins through Thursday: Travis Dunkelberger 187 (third), Ramon Dominguez 160 (fifth) and Mark Johnston 157 (tied for sixth).
Large, competitive Dash
The $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on Saturday at Laurel Park is shaping up as a race of no stars but a large and competitive field. The six-furlong sprint is one of only three Grade I stakes in Maryland.
Trainer Mary Jo Lohmeier said Friday that her Keeneland-based Richter Scale will travel to Maryland on Wednesday for the race. He would be the high weight and possible favorite.
According to Maryland Jockey Club stakes coordinator David Rollinson, these sprinters are also likely for the Dash: Balancethebudget, Bet On Sunshine, Greek Tycoon, Intidab, Just Call Me Carl, Oro de Mexico or Western Expression (both trained by Phil Serpe at Belmont Park), Say Florida Sandy, Silver Chadra, Successful Appeal and Sun Bull.
"When you have one standout horse, you tend to get a small field," Rollinson said. "But this year it looks as if we don't have that standout horse. So we'll likely get a full, competitive field, which is what everybody wants in racing."
Post positions will be drawn Wednesday.
Streaking for a record
On the same day as the De Francis Dash, a 3-year-old filly little known outside Louisiana will attempt to tie the modern-day North American record for consecutive wins.
Hallowed Dreams, a Louisiana-bred daughter of Malagra, has won all 15 of her races - all sprints in Louisiana. She will try to win No. 16 Saturday in the Dixie Miss Stakes at Louisiana Downs, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies with a purse of $40,000.
Cigar and Citation share the record of 16 straight wins. Hallowed Dreams is trained by Lloyd J. Romero, who is also part owner. She is ridden by Sylvester Carmouche, who has been quoted as saying: "She's the fastest thing I've ever been on in my life."