12/03/2010 6:24PM

Lake nears membership in 5,000-win club

Scott Lake calls his success "overwhelming"

Scott Lake was out to dinner with friends last weekend when the subject of his closing in on 5,000 career wins came up.

"Some people don't win 500 races in their career," Lake recalled one of his friends saying. "There are only five guys in front of you - think of the guys that are behind you."

That's when it started to dawn on Lake what he is about to accomplish. Sometime in the next week or so, Lake, 45, will become just the sixth trainer in history to win 5,000 Thoroughbred races. He'll join a select group that includes Dale Baird, Jack Van Berg, King Leatherbury, Jerry Hollendorfer, and Steve Asmussen.

Entering the weekend, Lake had 4,994 career victories after I'llthinkofsumthin won Friday's seventh race at Parx Racing (formerly Philadelphia Park).

"It's getting to be overwhelming," Lake said this week from his Pennsylvania home. "We accomplished so much, and it came so fast. You don't appreciate it while it's happening. It's a huge accomplishment. I owe it to all my owners and help and every horse that I've trained -- they're the key players. I might have been the name on the program, but they're the ones that did it."

Twice an Eclipse Award finalist, Lake four times from 2000-06 led the nation in victories, highlighted by his 528-win season in 2006. But it was that year when Lake began to realize he was getting too big. He had 287 horses stabled at eight different tracks along the East Coast.

"It burnt me out," said Lake, who began training in 1987 at Penn National. "I cut two places out, but it wasn't enough. I cut more and finally got down to two places -- Philadelphia and Delaware. I'm getting the itch again to do another track, but I'm keeping myself under control right now."

Lake said is considering returning to New York, where he had some success from 2003-06. He left New York at the end of 2009.

"When we first moved to New York, we had guys who were playing the game aggressively," said Lake, who trained for Robert Cole, Richard Englander, and Ben Mondello. "I was probably much more focused when I first went into New York. As time went on, it was wearing on me. Also, New York wasn't one of my favorite places to be. I was spending less and less time there concentrating on Philly, Delaware, and Maryland."

Lake said he currently has 70 horses in training between Parx and Delaware Park. He spends five mornings a week at Parx and one at Delaware. On Sundays, he stays home with his wife, Jennifer, and their two young children.

"It was the best move he ever made," Mondello, still one of Lake's primary owners and his accountant, said of the trainer downsizing. "When I look at this as an accountant, whether you have 275 horses or you have 50 horses, if you do things the right way, pay taxes, workman's comp [insurance], you're going to make the same amount of money. The workman's comp will kill you, the payroll taxes will kill you."

In 2009, Lake was forced to file for bankruptcy after his previous accountant allegedly stole $1.2 million from Lake and failed to file tax returns for him for six years. Mondello has taken over as Lake's accountant and said that Lake should be out of bankruptcy in early 2011.

"I'm very close to the end of this thing and I can't thank Ben Mondello for the things he's done for me through this," Lake said. "I wouldn't be around if not for the support of my wife and kids and Ben Mondello."

Lake and Mondello have had a lot of success together, including with the hard-knocking claimer Spooky Mulder, a horse that Lake claimed on four different occasions. Spooky Mulder won 34 races from 85 starts and now retired lives on a farm in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

"Obviously, Spooky Mulder is at the top of the list of any horse I ever trained,'' Lake said. "He had an awesome personality and every time he went over there he gave 100 percent, he knew he was the man; Thunderello same thing."

Thunderello came within a half-length of giving Lake his biggest victory when he finished second to Orientate in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park.
"I'd like to hit 6,000 [wins], that's my next goal," Lake said. "That and the Breeders' Cup Sprint, those are my two goals."