Trainer Scooter Dickey thought he had hit the top of the racing game long before Flat Out came into his barn.
"I had always hoped for a horse like this," Dickey said Tuesday morning as Flat Out went to the Churchill Downs track for his morning exercise under Otto Aguilar. "I thought I had reached the pinnacle in 1984 in the Preakness (with Wind Flyer). Gate Dancer beat me as far as he did in a maiden race, six lengths."
Owned by Preston Stables, Flat Out came to Dickey in the summer of 2008 and made his debut at Churchill that November, running sixth in a 6½ -furlong race.
"We took three good babies to Saratoga that summer, but he did not get to run," Dickey said. "The first time he ran, he ran green but he closed ground and the next time out he won at the Fair Grounds."
A victory in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park in his 3-year-old debut put Flat Out on the Kentucky Derby trail, and respectable showings in the Southwest and Arkansas Derby kept him there until a shoulder injury less than two weeks before the Run for the Roses ended that dream.
The shoulder injury and battles with persistent quarter cracks kept Flat Out away from the races for 20 months.
Did Dickey ever think of throwing in the towel?
"Only one time," the 70-year-old native of Anthony, Kan., said. "We had brought him back after the shoulder had healed and the quarter cracks had healed. We were two or three works away (from a start) and that old quarter crack behind the wall blew out and they had to cut his foot away like they did with Big Brown and we had to give it time to grow back. That was the only time."
After a victory in his return in December in New Orleans, Flat Out battled quarter cracks again before starting on a run that has propelled him to the upper echelon of the handicap ranks in North America and into a leading role for the Grade I, $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
"He just takes everything in stride," Dickey said of Flat Out, who worked a bullet 5 furlongs in :59.80 on Saturday under Greta Kuntzweiler. "He just wants to go out there and work."
Brass Hat at Keeneland
A year ago, Brass Hat, one of the most popular horses ever to race in Kentucky, and jockey Calvin Borel, perhaps the most popular jockey in the state, charged past their rivals down the stretch to win the Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland. Fans gave Brass Hat, Borel, breeder-owner Fred Bradley and Bradley's son, Buff, who trained Brass Hat, a rousing reception after the Prized gelding's first victory in six starts at the track.
On Thursday, the day of this year's Sycamore, fans at Keeneland will get to pay tribute to the now-retired Brass Hat. Plans call for the 10-year-old gelding, who earned $2,173,561, to follow the horses that are racing in the seventh race to the saddling paddock. Following the race, Brass Hat will be paraded around the walking ring, where Fred Bradley will pose with him.