11/13/2007 12:00AM

Dickinson true Hall of Famer

EmailPHILADELPHIA - Michael Dickinson does not think he belongs in the Racing Hall of Fame. I think he does.

"I'm not Hall of Fame material," Dickinson said.

The facts would strongly suggest he is.

How many trainers do you know who brought a horse back from a two-year layoff to win a Breeders' Cup race? How many do you know who brought a horse back from a four-year layoff to dominate a Gradeo1 stakes?

The answer to both questions is one, the only man who would try it, the only man who could do it - Michael Dickinson.

Dickinson, 57, announced his retirement Tuesday. He isn't going anywhere. He just won't be training anymore.

"I've trained for 40 years," Dickinson said. "Training is a monastic life. It's seven days a week."

Dickinson has discovered a new calling. Along with his wife, Joan Wakefield, he is now marketing the Tapeta surface he first unveiled at his farm in North East, Md., a decade ago.

"It is a good surface," Dickinson said. "All our clients seem to like it. It's very rewarding.

"Joan wanted me to quit training a year ago. She wanted a change.

"The big difference is that if we have 10 horses in training and if we are really good and if we are really lucky, we'll only do any good with five of them. The other five, you're going around apologizing for.

"I'm sorry Mr. Owner, but this horse is slow. Or he's a bleeder. Or he can't run.

"If we do 10 tracks, we should be able to do 10 good tracks. And if it's not a good track, we've just got to look in the mirror. It's our fault, so we can correct it. It's a whole lot more fun going 10 for 10 than 5 for 10."

Tapeta was installed at Fair Hill last year. Races were run over it for the first time in September at Presque Isle. Golden Gate Fields just became the second track with Tapeta.

The surface is on three training tracks in Dubai, two in Newmarket, and one in Singapore. One is being installed in Korea.

I walked the Churchill Downs turf course with Dickinson the night before the 1998 Breeders' Cup Mile. He was taking no chances.

That morning, he had watched Da Hoss's final work from the Churchill press box. I didn't watch the horse. I watched Dickinson. I already knew that he knew something I could never know. I just wanted to watch his expression.

His smile kept getting bigger. My bet kept growing larger.

"The horse will win," he said.

The horse won and paid $25.20. Some things, you don't forget.

Everybody said it was a miracle. But it can't be a miracle if it is a fact before it ever happens. Dickinson really was that good.

Da Hoss got passed in the stretch and came again to win, two years after he had won the 1996 Mile at Woodbine.

In 1999, Dickinson won the West Virginia Breeders' Classic with A Huevo. The horse broke a track record that had been around for a quarter century. Subsequently, the horse was disqualified from purse money for a clenbuterol drug positive, but Dickinson never was suspended.

A Huevo was injured after that and did not race again for four years. In November 2003, A Huevo won the De Francis Dash under a hand ride. The following fall, just to make sure nobody missed the point, A Huevo returned to West Virginia and won the Classic again, this time by 19 1/4 lengths. There was no DQ.

After a legendary career in England, first as a steeplechase jockey and then as a trainer (where he was champion jump trainer three times), Dickinson came to America in 1987. Any player who caught on to the Dickinson magic early rode a very lucrative train. The Racing Post recently named Dickinson's "Famous Five" as the greatest training feat of the last 100 years. All the man did was train the first five home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Dickinson was the runner-up for the Eclipse Award in 1998, a tribute to his work with Da Hoss.

By his accounting, Dickinson won 1,312 races in the U.K. and U.S., including 151 stakes.

In 20 years here, Dickinson has won 85 stakes, including the Wood Memorial, Ashland, Mother Goose, and Sword Dancer Handicap. Tapit, Fleet Renee, and Cetewayo were among his Grade I winners.

To qualify for the Hall of Fame, a trainer must have been licensed for 25 years. Dickinson was training even when he was still riding. When he became a full-time trainer in 1980, he won so much that he is already in England's Steeplechase Hall of Fame.

I contend that Da Hoss in 1998 was enough by itself to get Dickinson into the Hall of Fame. Put that together with A Huevo, all those stakes winners, a great annual percentage, consistent winning for two decades in America, and the great record in England, and Dickinson really should be a lock.

Most importantly, in a sport where some leave their ethics at the door, Michael Dickinson never compromised a thing. He trained the right way. He won the right way. He leaves the right way.