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. “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 in October 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 cellphone 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.”
Dickey is well-regarded for his perseverance and hard work during a career in which he’s never had a horse in the Triple Crown races and only now has one in the season-ending Breeders’ Cup.
In recent years, Dickey’s stable twice dwindled to one horse and he was forced to take a job as a farm manager to pay the bills.
Then along came Flat Out, who was included in a group of 2-year-olds that Dickey was in charge of taking to Saratoga.
“I didn’t realize how good he was,” he said.
Now 5, Flat Out is a relatively fresh horse because his previous foot problems and a shoulder injury have limited him to 12 starts. He’s finished in the money in eight of those and earned $1.1 million. He’ll be ridden by Alex Solis, a 47-year-old jockey enjoying success again after a long drought.
The prospect of winning the Classic “would be great,” said Dickey, who has enjoyed hearing from old friends, former classmates and jockeys who used to ride for him as a result of Flat Out’s exploits.