LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Flat Out is taking Scooter Dickey places the 70-year-old trainer has never been. He's hoping their next trip is to the winner's circle after the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Flat Out is the best horse of Dickey's nearly 50-year career and the first to win a Grade 1 stakes for him. He came to Dickey as a promising 2-year-old in 2008, and the trainer has seen Flat Out through a history of foot problems to reach North America's richest race.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Dickey said, standing inside a stall piled with bags of feed. "Come Saturday, I'll get nervous about the time we start putting the saddle on."
Dickey will have family and friends on hand Saturday at Churchill Downs, where he's based. Dana, his wife of 48 years who has an incurable liver disease and has waited years to receive a transplant, will gather her strength to attend.
At 6-1 on the morning line, Flat Out earned a spot in the Classic by winning the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont last month over Drosselmeyer and Stay Thirsty, two of the 11 horses he'll face in the 1¼-mile race.
Flat Out has been one of the most consistent handicap horses in the country this year, finishing first or second in five of his six starts. He lost to filly Havre de Grace (another Classic contender) in the Woodward Stakes and finished second to Tizway in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
It's obvious the affection Dickey has for the horse that has gotten him to some of the biggest races at Belmont, Saratoga, Churchill Downs and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Like a proud parent, he shows visitors a cell phone photo of Flat Out in his stall holding a newspaper in his mouth with the horse's picture on the front from Saratoga.
"He's younger today than he's been in 10 years," trainer and longtime friend Larry Jones said. "He has more bounce in his step. He's got the bigger smile. I am so tickled for Scooter."
O'Brien looks for 1st Breeders' Cup Classic win
Aiden O'Brien, one of the top trainers in Europe, will try to win the Breeders' Cup Classic for the first time on Saturday with So You Think, a disappointment so far this season.
O'Brien, a four-time Breeders' Cup winner, is winless in 11 attempts in the $5 million Classic.
"It's one of those races you don't even dream about winning," O'Brien said on Thursday. "We've gotten so many good horses beaten in this race. I'd be afraid to even dream about winning. Maybe someday it will happen. If it ever does happen, I think it would be incredible."
O'Brien hopes for a breakthrough with So You Think, a standout runner in Australia before joining O'Brien's stable at the famed Ballydoyle center in Ireland this year. He's worked on getting the 5-year-old more relaxed, a tactic that backfired.
"When he came to us, he was very revved up," O'Brien said. "We tried to teach him to relax and he started to do that. We started to think he was overly relaxed."
After losses in his last two races in England and France, O'Brien decided to switch So You Think from the turf, where he ran all previous 19 races, to the main track for the Classic while adding blinkers for the first time since 2009.
Blinkers restrict the field of vision with the goal of keeping a horse more focused.
"When we put the blinkers on him back home, the lads commented that he was more attentive," O'Brien said. "He concentrates a little bit more. Maybe I just over-relaxed him."
Two horses were scratched Thursday from the Breeders' Cup: Medaglia d'Amour and Gung Ho.
Medaglia d'Amour is out of the $2 million Ladies' Classic on Friday after spiking a temperature.
"She coughed a couple of times, too, so we can't run her like that," trainer Ben Cecil said.
Medaglia d'Amour is winless in three races this season.
Gung Ho was withdrawn from the $1 million Juvenile Turf on Saturday due to muscle soreness.
"Trainer Mike Maker didn't like the way he was walking this morning," owner Ken Ramsey said.
The defection of Gung Ho opened the door for Tequilla Factor to run in the Juvenile Turf.
Sea Moon was denied a final workout for the $3 million Turf on Saturday when Churchill Downs officials closed the turf course on Thursday.
Workouts on the grass, set for 9:30 a.m., were called off when rain started to fall. Sir Michael Stoute, Sea Moon's trainer, had scheduled a half-mile (800-meter) drill for the 3-year-old who is 3-1-1 in five races in England.
Stoute argued in vain to have the course reopened. After a half hour of jogging about, Sea Moon walked to the barn.
"We came all the way from England and paid a fortune to come," Stoute said. "Here we are just trying to get a nice final work before the race. Ten drops of rain, and they close the track."
Uncle Mo healthy again
Uncle Mo was supposed to return to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup as a conquering hero. He was the buzz horse coming into the Kentucky Derby, having won the first four races of his career and earning top 2-year-old honors.
But he never made it to the starting gate.
Uncle Mo was knocked out on Derby eve by a serious liver disease. When owner Mike Repole left Louisville in May, he didn't know if he would ever see his best horse again.
The colt was sidelined for four months because of the illness, leaving Repole, trainer Todd Pletcher and others around Uncle Mo to wonder if it was a race he could win.
Now he appears back on his game.
Uncle Mo got nosed out for the win in the King's Bishop in August, leaving Repole bummed out.
"I was down because I've been on such an emotional ride with this horse," he said Wednesday. "I wanted that win so bad for Uncle Mo. That was a tough loss."
The colt bounced back to win the Kelso Handicap by three lengths in his last start, a race Repole called Uncle Mo's redemption. He's the 5-2 early favorite for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday even though he's never run 1 1-4 miles and faces challengers like filly Havre de Grace, Flat Out and European import So You Think.
"This is Mo's Kentucky Derby," Repole said.
"Uncle Mo is the most talented horse in the race. There's no doubt in my mind."