08/12/2014 10:11AM

Jerardi: Lake continues to rack up wins with scaled-back stable

Trainer Scott Lake currently has 80 horses at two tracks, Parx Racing and Delaware Park.

In the first decade of the 2000s, Scott Lake trained the winners of 4,130 races. His stable won 417 races in 2005, 528 in 2006, 485 in 2007, and 421 in 2008, when he had a peak of 287 horses at seven tracks, with 30 more horses on the farm. One year, Lake drove 100,000 miles in three different vehicles.

It was really quite insane.

“I just grew into that,” Lake said. “The phone would ring at 4:30 in the morning; you’d start making the training chart. It would take an hour and a half to do all the training charts.”

When training ended, “it was like going to war – 10 o’clock in the morning was battle. Call every track, go through every extra.”

Those days are done. After his accountant blew through millions of Lake’s money, the trainer had to declare bankruptcy. He downscaled his stable dramatically.

“We had the problem with my accountant, and it set us back,” Lake said. “My kids were little, and I decided it is more important to scale back a little bit, concentrate, be able to be around them a little more, just cut back and do a little bit better product for my owners.”

These days, Lake has 80 horses at two tracks, Parx Racing and Delaware Park. And he is still winning races. Two weeks ago at Delaware Park, Lake, 49, won career race No. 5,500, good for sixth all time in North America.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Lake said. “It just kind of happened. It was going so fast.”

It has slowed down now. Lake won 149 races in 2013. He is closing in on 100 wins this year.

“I can do this in my sleep,” Lake said.

There was no grand design. The buildup just happened.

“When I was a kid, I just wanted to be in horse racing,” Lake said. “I never knew I wanted to be a trainer, I just wanted to be around horses. When I first started training, I thought Penn National was the place. There was no scheme to get out of there.”

Then, he got offers at Parx, in Maryland, and in New York.

“And it just snowballed,” Lake said.

Lake made his name as a claiming trainer, but he has won some big races. Unlike most of his brethren, his goal has never been the Kentucky Derby. It is the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

And in 2002, he did everything but win it at Arlington Park with Thunderello, a 48-1 shot. The horse got the lead at the start and kept it to the final yards before being run down near the wire by Orientate, trained by Mr. Breeders’ Cup, D. Wayne Lukas.

“You’d never think you could feel so good but yet so bad at the same time,” Lake said. “A year and a half before that, I was stabled at Penn National. The next thing you know, I’m at the Breeders’ Cup and get beat a head [actually, a half-length, but that’s quibbling].

“I’m holding my oldest daughter at the time, she was like 3 or 4 years old, and she’s screaming and had no idea what she was screaming for. It was just an unbelievable moment.”

And the best moment came a few minutes after the race.

“Lukas was one of my heroes growing up,” Lake said. “He walked out onto the track, just ignored everybody, walked over to me, gave me a hug, and whispered to me, ‘You have no idea what you just did. What you accomplished was better than what I did with my horse.’ To me, that was one of the defining moments of my career.”

Lake is within 1,000 wins of Jack Van Berg and King Leatherbury. Jerry Hollendorfer and Steve Asmussen are still winning, so he is not catching them. And it’s not likely that anybody is ever going to catch Dale Baird (9,445).

With another decade like 2000-09, Lake would have been closing fast on Baird. But that really was a bit crazy.

“I’d like to get to about fourth,” Lake said.

That would be a nice spot for a kid from central Pennsylvania who just wanted to be around horses.